What are the major glands of the body?

Most Common Endocrine System Diseases & Treatment

The endocrine system with bandages.

The body’s endocrine system consists of eight major glands distributed throughout the body. Endocrine glands are ductless glands that secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream. The hormones secreted by the endocrine system control important body processes like breathing, blood circulation, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, digestion, regulation of body temperature, growth and development, sexual function , mood, and more.

The eight major glands include the pineal gland, pituitary gland, hypothalamus, thyroid gland , parathyroid glands, adrenal gland, pancreas, and gonads (ovaries and testes). Other organs that are not endocrine organs also secrete hormones, such as the heart, kidneys, adipose tissue, thymus, skin, and placenta.

Problems with the endocrine organs affect hormone levels in the body and cause endocrine diseases. Endocrine disorders can also occur when the body does not respond to hormones as it should. Hormonal imbalances can cause signs and symptoms throughout the body.

Please continue reading to learn about some of the common types of endocrine disorders and their treatments.

What is the most common disease treated by an endocrinologist?

The most common endocrine disorder diagnosed and treated by endocrinologists in the United States is diabetes. Approximately 30 million Americans have this endocrine disorder. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough of a hormone called insulin. Insulin is responsible for moving sugar from the blood into the cells, where it is used for energy. In people with diabetes , too little insulin is produced, or the body cannot use insulin properly. As a result, glucose builds up in the blood, leading to high blood sugar levels.

What are some common diseases of the endocrine system?

Disorders of the Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland produces two main hormones, T3 and T4, that control important functions in the body, such as blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and body temperature. Common conditions of this endocrine gland include:

  • Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid gland: This is a condition in which there is too little thyroid hormone. Without enough thyroid hormone, a person can develop signs and symptoms such as tiredness, weight gain, constipation, cold sensitivity, depression, thinning hair, memory problems, and dry skin.
  • Hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid gland: This is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. Signs and symptoms of excess thyroid hormones include fast heartbeat, weight loss, increased hunger, tremors, nervousness, anxiety, heat intolerance, and sweating.

Adrenal Gland Disorders

There are two adrenal glands in the body, one on top of each kidney. The adrenal gland releases hormones such as cortisol (stress hormone), aldosterone, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Some of the endocrine disorders of the adrenal glands include:

  • Addison’s disease or adrenal insufficiency: This is an endocrine disease in which there are low cortisol and aldosterone hormone levels. Symptoms include low blood pressure, low blood sugar, irritability, depression, joint pain, and salt cravings.
  • Overactive adrenal gland: This is an endocrine disease in which high hormone levels cause symptoms like anxiety, headache, and high blood pressure.

Pituitary Gland Disorders

The pituitary gland is a pea-sized gland in the brain that controls thyroid function, adrenal gland function, sexual development, and growth. The pituitary gland releases several hormones, such as the growth hormone, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), vasopressin, and oxytocin. It also functions to release sex hormones like follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Problems with any of the hormones that the pituitary gland produces can have wide-ranging effects on the body. A hormone imbalance in a pituitary gland hormone can cause the following conditions, among others:

  • Gigantism or acromegaly: This is an endocrine disorder in which the body grows too quickly due to too much growth hormone. High growth hormone levels can lead to unusual facial features and abnormally large hands and feet.
  • Cushing’s syndrome: This is an endocrine disease in which the pituitary gland produces too much adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), leading to high cortisol levels with symptoms like severe fatigue, muscle weakness, depression, high blood pressure, and headaches.

Endocrine Gland Tumors

An endocrine gland tumor is called different names depending on the organ where it occurs. Examples include multiple endocrine neoplasia I and II, adrenocortical carcinoma, pheochromocytoma, and medullary thyroid carcinoma.

Gonadal Disorders

The gonads (ovaries in females and testes in males) release hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. A hormone imbalance in these hormones can lead to endocrine disorders such as abnormally early puberty or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) .

What medications are used to treat endocrine disorders?

The medications used to treat endocrine diseases depend on the condition. Some examples include:

  • Diabetes medicines, including oral medications (pills) such as metformin , sitagliptin , glipizide , glyburide , and pioglitazone , and injectable medications like insulin and dulaglutide (Trulicity).
  • Thyroid medications such as levothyroxine (Synthroid, Tirosint) for underactive thyroid and propylthiouracil and carbimazole for overactive thyroid.
  • Steroid hormones such as hydrocortisone and prednisone to treat adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease.
  • Medications such as mitotane (Lysodren), metyrapone (Metopirone), and ketoconazole (Nizoral) to control excess cortisol production in people with Cushing’s syndrome. Mitotane is a chemotherapy medication used for adrenal cortical cancer.
  • Octreotide , bromocriptine , and pegvisomant to treat high growth hormone levels.
  • Cabergoline is approved to treat high levels of prolactin in your blood; however, it can be used as off-label treatment for acromegaly, a hormonal disorder where too much growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland.