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What is the endocrine system?

The endocrine system is a network of glands positioned throughout the human body that controls a variety of functions. Each gland is responsible for producing certain types of hormones that allow cells to work together in performing necessary functions for life. 

Almost every cell, organ, and system function throughout the body relies on a healthy, working endocrine system. Not only does the human body thrive because of its endocrine network, but so do mammals, birds, and other vertebrates. Each living being relies on the release of hormones to facilitate communication between internal systems. 

Hormone levels and the endocrine system are responsible for monitoring blood pressure, extracting energy from ingested nutrients, initiating appetite, development of sex organs, and so much more.

What are the endocrine glands and what do they do?

The endocrine system is made up of a variety of separate glands that are responsible for individual processes and contribute to the much larger puzzle. They are as follows: 

  • Hypothalamus: As part of the human brain, the hypothalamus forms a bridge between our nervous system and our endocrine system, ensuring the two work well together. This crucial gland has the power to stop and start the release of hormones throughout the body based on hormone levels. In doing this, the hypothalamus maintains its precise balance, or homeostasis. 
  • Pineal Gland: Also called, the third eye, the function of this gland was just recently discovered. Situated deep inside the brain, the pineal gland makes melatonin – an essential factor in maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm, or sleep cycle. The pineal gland releases this hormone in accordance with light exposure, ensuring our internal clocks are set in accordance with the rising and setting sun. Our “third eye” also releases select reproductive hormones. 
  • Pituitary Gland: Often cited as the “master gland”, the pituitary gland is pea-sized and controls much of the hormone release within our bodies. The pituitary gland is credited with controlling our metabolism, growth, reproduction, blood pressure, and more. 
  • Thyroid gland: This regulates our metabolism, growth, and general development of the human body as it progresses from childhood into adulthood. By releasing a steady amount of hormones into the blood stream, the thyroid keeps our metabolic rate stable, which then promotes healthy digestion. 
  • Adrenal glands: These cortisol-producing glands sit atop the kidneys and are vital to successful endocrine system functions. The hormones they release help the body respond to external stressors. 
  • Parathyroid gland: Responsible for bone health and density, these four small glands sit behind the thyroid and control levels of phosphorus and calcium. 
  • Thymus: After puberty, this piece of the endocrine system begins to shrink. It still remains responsible for releasing white blood cells that fight infection but is much more active during the early years of development. 
  • Pancreas: Essential to the digestive system and the endocrine system, the pancreas produces insulin and glucagon, which ensure you have an appropriate amount of sugar in the bloodstream. 
  • Gonads: Present in males as testes and in females as ovaries, the gonads regulate reproductive development, cycles, and behaviors. 

What are endocrine system disorders?

Endocrine system disorders are vast and varied, affecting the endocrine glands and thus the entire internal organ system. Some disorders include: 

  • Gigantism/Growth Issues. Too much growth hormones released during a child’s developmental stages can result in gigantism. An overactive or under-active pituitary gland can stimulate or stunt a child’s growth. 
  • Adrenal insufficiency. Also called Addison’s disease, this occurs when the adrenal glands fail to produce sufficient levels of cortisol and aldosterone. Symptoms of Addison’s disease may include fatigue, muscle weakness, nausea, and vomiting. 
  • Cushing’s disease. An overactive adrenal gland or pituitary gland can result in Cushing’s disease, which can cause weight gain, excessive hairiness, sweating, insomnia, swelling, and more. 
  • Hyperthyroidism. When the thyroid kicks into overdrive and generates too much of its hormone, one may experience weight loss, increased heart rate, or an autoimmune disorder called Grave’s disease. 
  • Hypothyroidism. The lack of thyroid hormones can cause hypothyroidism and stunt growth development in children or lead to constipation, dry skin, and depression in adults. 

Causes of Endocrine disorders include but are not limited to: 

  • Infections. Certain infections, like tuberculosis, can cause endocrine disorders. 
  • Tumors. When tumors grow on the glands within the endocrine system, they can inhibit the production of necessary hormones. Tumors may also be cancerous and spread to other organs within the body. 
  • Autoimmune diseases. HIV, Lupus, or other autoimmune disorders can cause the immune system to attack itself, causing damage to glands within the endocrine system. 
  • Genetic disorders. There are a variety of genetic disorders that can cause damage to the endocrine system. One of the most common is Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN) which causes excess growth of skin on various endocrine glands. 

What are the treatments for endocrine disorders?

Treatments for endocrine disorders vary depending on the disorder and the patient’s medical history. For endocrine orders that are related to tumor growth, surgery may be a potential treatment. Other endocrine issues may be treated in the following ways: 

  • Hormone suppression. Overactive glands that can result in gigantism, hyperthyroidism, Cushings disease, and the link, can be managed through the administration of prescription medication. Those suffering from these types of endocrine disorders will need to be on a structured health care plan for the rest of their lives but are able to maintain a semblance of normalcy and a high quality of life. 
  • Hormone replacement therapy. Endocrine disorders that cause a lack of hormone release can be managed through hormone replacement therapies. Careful, professionally supervised health care can help the endocrine system get back on the right track and release hormones appropriately. 

UCF Health employs a team of experts who specialize in diagnosing and treating adrenal disorders. In collaboration with knowledgeable medical professionals, doctors at UCF Health can help evaluate your symptoms and guide you to a healthier, fruitful existence. For advanced Orlando Endocrinology Services or other UCF Health services, visit our patient portal to schedule an appointment.