8 Reasons to See an Endocrinologist
An endocrinologist diagnoses and treats hormone imbalances and other problems with your body’s endocrine glands. Endocrine glands include the thyroid, parathyroid, pancreas, ovaries or testicles, hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. Endocrine disorders tend to be complex because they often affect many body systems.
Most people see an endocrinologist when their primary care doctor refers them for evaluation or treatment. You may need to see an endocrine doctor if you or your doctor suspects an endocrine disorder, such as:
Diabetes is the most common endocrine disorder in the United States. When you have diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin—a hormone that helps your body’s cells use glucose for energy. As a result, glucose stays in your blood instead of helping your cells. Increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurry vision are warning signs of diabetes.
All people with diabetes, including type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes, need to monitor their blood sugar levels. People with Type 1 diabetes must use insulin because they are not able to make any of their own. For type 2 diabetes, treatment includes making lifestyle and dietary changes, losing weight, and using oral medications and possibly insulin.
Endocrine gland cancers include thyroid cancer, parathyroid cancer, adrenal cancer, and pituitary cancer, and other rare cancers. These cancers can cause problems with hormone levels. People with endocrine cancer may work with an oncologist and an endocrinologist to manage their disease. Symptoms and treatment depend on the specific type of cancer.
An endocrinologist may help treat an endocrine cancer by regulating hormone levels. This usually involves lowering hormone levels that are too high. However, they may also use hormones to try to stop the tumor from growing. In some cases, hormone replacement is necessary after removing a cancerous gland.
Growth disorders include acromegaly, gigantism, growth hormone deficiency, short stature, early puberty, delayed puberty, Klinefelter syndrome, Turner’s syndrome, and other genetic disorders. Some of these disorders cause excessive or premature growth. Others result in delayed or incomplete growth along with learning disabilities and developmental delays.
In some of these disorders, sex hormones are the cause of abnormal growth. In others, growth hormone is the culprit. Regulating hormones can help correct growth issues and prevent future problems. Because growth disorders are not common, it is vital to work with an experienced endocrinologist.
People dealing with infertility see a specialized endocrinologist, called a reproductive endocrinologist. This endocrine doctor has the training to diagnose the cause of infertility and recommend treatment.
The root of infertility can be due to a female reproductive issue, a male reproductive issue, or a combination of both. Treatment depends on the cause, but hormone medications are common. Hormones can help stimulate ovulation and prepare a woman’s uterus for artificial insemination and assisted reproduction technologies (ART). Examples of ART include IVF (in vitro fertilization) and ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).
Hypogonadism is the medical term for low testosterone—or low T. It’s difficult to know exactly how many men have low T because studies on the condition use different definitions and populations. Experts estimate it affects millions of American men, with older men being more likely to have it. Symptoms of low T include decreased sexual desire, shrinking testes, and hair loss. Men may also have less energy, depression, muscle weakness, and sleep problems.
Testosterone therapy can treat low T when lab tests confirm the hormone problem. It’s important to see an experienced endocrinologist for testosterone therapy because it can cause harmful side effects without proper monitoring.
Osteoporosis is thinning of the bones and loss of bone mass. The risk of osteoporosis in both men and women increases with age as sex hormone levels decline. However, high levels of thyroid hormone, parathyroid hormone, and cortisol can also lead to osteoporosis. These endocrine disorders disrupt the normal balance of bone rebuilding and remodeling.
The main treatment is medication to strengthen bones and decrease bone loss. Sometimes, hormone replacement can help. However, this comes with certain risks, including cancer and blood clots. An endocrinologist’s expertise can explain the options and guide treatment decisions. Lifestyle changes can also help slow or stop bone loss and prevent fractures.
Women with PCOS have higher than normal levels of androgens (male hormones) and insulin. This leads to the main symptoms—enlarged ovaries containing many small cysts, irregular periods, and metabolic problems, such as diabetes. PCOS can also cause infertility problems, excessive hair growth, weight gain, and acne.
Like other endocrine disorders, treatment involves balancing hormones. This may include insulin- and androgen-regulating medications, hormone birth control, and medically supervised weight loss. Lifestyle changes can also help reduce symptoms.
Thyroid disorders are the second most common type of endocrine disorder in the United States. Thyroid hormones regulate your metabolism—how fast your body’s systems work. Too much thyroid hormone causes your body to work in overdrive. When you have too little thyroid hormone, your body becomes sluggish. Hypothyroidism—or low thyroid hormone levels—is more common than hyperthyroidism—or high thyroid hormone levels.
Medications can replace low thyroid hormone levels or block hormone production. Sometimes, doctors recommend radioactive iodine to destroy an overactive thyroid. This means the gland will no longer be able to make enough thyroid hormone. You may need to take hormone replacement if this is the case. Thyroid hormone replacement is typically lifelong therapy.
If you have an endocrine disorder, seeking care from a specialist with advanced training and expertise in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism helps ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis and the most effective treatment possible.