An endocrinologist is medical physician (M.D. or D.O.) who receives medical specialty training to diagnose and treat endocrine disorders. Endocrinologists also conduct basic research to learn how hormones or hormonal glands work, and clinical research to develop new treatment options.
Your primary care doctor or health care provider may refer you to an endocrinologist when you have a problem with your endocrine system.
Endocrinologists complete 4 years of medical school and then commit to another 3-4 years in a residency program, usually in internal medicine, pediatrics, or obstetrics and gynecology. Then they work perform research for another 2-3 years in an endocrinology "fellowship" to gain the additional expertise required to become board-certified in endocrinology.
Many endocrinologists are members of professional organizations, such as the the Endocrine Society and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE). Endocrinologists who are have met certain professional standards of the AACE are referred to as "Fellows" and may include the professional title of "FACE" in their name.
Some endocrinologists may specialize in certain areas including:
- Diabetes - for the treatment of diabetes and obesity
- Pediatric Endocrinology - for the treatment hormonal disorders in children, including growth disorders and diabetes
- Reproductive Endocrinology - for the treatment of infertility, menstrual disorders, or other issues involving the reproductive system
Medical Conditions Treated by Endocrinologists
- Diabetes. Endocrinologists treat diabetes with diet and medications, including insulin. They also work closely with patients to control blood sugar and monitor them so they can prevent health problems.
- Thyroid disorders. Endocrinologists treat patients with too much or too little thyroid hormone. They help patients reach a hormone balance by replacing or blocking thyroid hormone. Endocrinologists also receive special training to manage patients with thyroid nodules or thyroid cancer, and enlarged thyroid glands.
- Bone problems. Endocrinolgoists treat osteoporosis and osteomalacia (rickets), which causes bones to soften. Certain hormones act to protect bone tissue. When hormone levels are abnormal, bones can lose calcium and weaken. Menopause, in women, and loss of testicle function, in men, and aging may put you at risk for bone fractures. Endocrinologists treat other disorders that can affect bones, such as too much parathyroid hormone and long term use of steroids like prednisone.
- Reproduction and Infertility. Endocrinologists diagnose and treat hormone imbalances that can cause infertility, and also assess and treat patients with reproductive problems. They work with patients who need hormone replacement. Problems treated by reproductive endocrinologists include menopause symptoms, irregular periods, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), premenstrual syndrome, and impotence.
- Obesity. Endocrinologists treat patients who are overweight or obese, sometimes because of metabolic and hormonal problems. Thyroid, adrenal, ovarian, and pituitary disorders can cause obesity. Endocrinologists also identify factors linked with obesity, such as insulin resistance and genetic problems.
- Pituitary Gland. The pituitary, often referred to as "the master gland" makes several important hormones that control other glands. Problems with pituitary hormone levels can cause hormonal imbalances that lead to infertility, menstrual disorders, growth disorders (acromegaly or short stature) and too much cortisol production (Cushing's syndrome). Endocrinologists control these conditions with medications and refer patients who need surgery.
- Growth. Children and adults can have effects from not making enough growth hormone. Pediatric endocrinologists treat children who suffer from endocrine problems that cause short stature and other growth disorders. Safe and effective growth hormone replacement therapy is available for people with growth hormone imbalance.
- Hypertension. Up to 10% of people have hypertension because of too much aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands. About half of these cases are caused by growths that can be removed with surgery. Conditions such as the metabolic syndrome or a rare adrenal growth called a pheochromocytoma also may cause a hormone imbalance that leads to hypertension. These conditions also can be treated successfully.
- Lipid Disorders. One of the most common lipid disorders is hyperlipidemia - high levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (known as "bad" cholesterol), and/or triglycerides in the blood. Lipid disorders can be found in several conditions that require special management, including metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and obesity. Special diets, exercise, and medications may be prescribed to manage hyperlipidemia and other lipid disorders.
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Last updated: 5/13/2022