Endocrinology is a branch of medicine that deals with the endocrine system, the organs that are associated with it, the diseases and conditions that may arise from any of the associated glands and organs, and the overall metabolic function of the body. It can also include any behavior or mental activity that can be associated with or develop because of changes in the endocrine system.
The endocrine system is composed of many different glands such as the pancreas, adrenal glands above the kidneys, pituitary gland, thyroid glands, and some parts of the reproductive such as the ovaries and the testes.
These parts are responsible for the production and secretion of hormones, which act as chemical messengers that tell cells or tissues to function in a certain manner or to carry out activities that are essential to life. For instance, the pancreas creates insulin, which helps store and deliver blood sugar (glucose) to cells to give them energy. Since the glands do not have ducts, these hormones are delivered through the bloodstream.
The system may also include specific organs that can function similarly as these glands. Some good examples are the kidneys, which work with the liver and skin to harness vitamin D to control the levels of calcium in the blood. The body naturally produces Vitamin D although its development is sparked by exposure to sunlight.
Changes to any of the glands due to a disease or congenital defect, as well as other factors that can cause hormonal imbalance, are a major concern for endocrinologists, the specialists who are trained in this area.
All endocrinologists are trained to deal with any condition affecting the endocrine system, although they may also specialize in reproduction, pediatrics, internal medicine (which covers anything that is not part of reproduction and pediatrics), behavioral, oncology, and comparative analysis.
A person may consider seeing an endocrinologist if:
An endocrinologist spends at least 20 years in training, specializing, and enhancing his or her expertise. At least four years are spent in medical school followed by between three to four years of residency training. They then proceed to a fellowship, which may be two to three years. Endocrinologists should be board certified.