The endocrine system is a network of glands that are responsible for producing and releasing hormones that help control several important body functions such as the ability to change glucose into energy that powers up cells and organs. The endocrine system influences how your heart beats, how your bones and tissues grow, and the body’s ability to conceive.

There are different types of endocrine glands, namely the adrenal glands, hypothalamus, ovaries, islet cells in the pancreas, parathyroid, pineal gland, pituitary gland, testes, thymus and thyroid. Endocrine disorders are diseases which are related to the endocrine glands of the body.

There are different types of endocrine disorders, such as:

  • Adrenal insufficiency – This occurs when the adrenal gland releases too little cortisol hormone and sometimes aldosterone. Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include fatigue, upset stomach, dehydration and skin changes.
  • Cushing’s disease – This occurs when there is an overproduction of the pituitary gland hormone, which may lead to an overactive adrenal gland. Symptoms of Cushing's disease include upper body obesity, slow growth rate in children, acne or skin infections, purple stretch marks and round, red, full face.
  • Acromegaly (gigantism) and other growth hormone problems – When the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone, a child’s bones and part may grow abnormally very fast. Gigantism may cause symptoms such as achy joints, deeper voice, pinched nerve problems, heart disease, sweating a lot with oily skin, vision problem, headaches, and thickening skin with skin tags.
  • Thyroid problems – These may include hyperthyroidism (when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone) which may cause symptoms such as weight loss, fast heart rate, sweating and nervousness. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone and may cause symptoms such as constipation, dry skin, fatigue and depression.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome – This occurs due to an overproduction of androgens, which interfere with the development of eggs and their release from the ovaries. PCOS may cause symptoms such as irregular periods, excess androgen and enlarged ovaries which may have follicles surrounding the eggs.
  • Precocious puberty – This is abnormally early puberty which may occur when glands tell the body to release sex hormones too soon in children.
How are endocrine disorders treated?

In most cases, endocrine disorders may be symptomless or mild, which may not need treatment. When symptoms of endocrine disorders begin to be bothersome, they may be treated by correcting the hormone imbalance. This is normally done through synthetic hormone administration. In cases where you are diagnosed with prolactinoma (a noncancerous tumour of the pituitary gland), surgery or radiation therapy may be recommended. In most cases, diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause of the endocrine disorder may resolve the symptoms.

What is an endocrinologist?

An endocrinologist specialises in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect the endocrine system. The endocrine system regulates the body’s hormones. Although Dr du Plooy is not an endocrinologist, he treats conditions causing an imbalance of hormones.

Can hypothyroidism be present at birth?

Yes, hypothyroidism may be congenital and is one of the leading causes of intellectual disability.

What are the signs of precocious puberty?

Symptoms of puberty that present too early are an indication of precocious puberty. This may include the growth of pubic hair, facial hair and acne in children. Girls may also experience early breast development and begin menstruating.

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