What is the difference between primary and secondary endocrine disorders?

Endocrine Disorders

Diagnosing an endocrine disorder can be challenging because symptoms often mimic those of other conditions, and treatment plans can be complex. That’s why people with an endocrine disease need to see a provider with advanced expertise in this specialized area of medicine.

At University of Utah Health, our board-certified, fellowship-trained endocrinologists provide advanced care for people with endocrine disorders. Our endocrinologists are dedicated to comprehensive care, clinical research, and quality improvement. Our goal is to provide patients with the most effective, evidence-based care strategies available.

What Is an Endocrine Disorder?

Endocrine disorders affect the body’s endocrine system, which uses glands throughout the body to produce and release hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that travel from your endocrine glands to other parts of the body. They help control many bodily functions, including blood pressure, growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, and mood.

The body’s main endocrine glands include the following:

Primary vs. Secondary Endocrine Disorders

A primary endocrine disorder occurs when one endocrine gland stops working correctly. A secondary endocrine disorder occurs when a master gland (such as the pituitary gland) that regulates other glands stops working.

Common Endocrine Disorders

The most common endocrine disorders include the following:

Endocrine Disorder Causes & Risk Factors


The endocrine system is robust and usually doesn’t develop problems. However, a disorder can occur if:

  • your endocrine system stops making a specific hormone,
  • your endocrine system makes too much or too little hormone, or
  • your body stops responding to one or more hormones.

Risk Factors

Many of the following factors can cause an endocrine disorder:

  • Autoimmune condition
  • Genetics/family history
  • Weight gain and weight loss
  • Overactive or underactive glands
  • Medication
  • Tumors

Endocrine disorders can be hereditary. If your family has a history of type 2 diabetes, your risk of developing diabetes may be higher than that of the general population. Many less common endocrine diseases tend to run in families as well. These include adrenal tumors and thyroid disease. For some hereditary endocrine diseases, genetic test results can guide the treatment plan and help other family members understand their risk for developing an endocrine disorder.

Endocrine Disorder Symptoms

Endocrine disorders can be challenging to diagnose because symptoms often mimic those of other conditions.

  • Bone fractures
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Eye and skin changes
  • High blood glucose levels
  • High calcium levels
  • Low or high blood pressure,
  • Infertility
  • Menstrual cycle disorders
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Unexplained weight changes

Fatigue is common for people with an endocrine disorder. If you experience fatigue and any of the symptoms listed above, talk with your doctor.

Endocrine Disorders in Women vs. Men

Men and women can experience many of the same endocrine disorders, but their symptoms may vary. For instance, a woman with high testosterone hormone levels may experience excessive hair growth. A man with low testosterone levels may lose facial hair.

Endocrine Disorder Treatments

The endocrinologist will develop a personalized treatment plan based on your diagnosis, symptoms, and health history.

  • Hormone therapy can help restore certain hormone levels.
  • Medication can help regulate your body’s production of hormones and relieve side effects of endocrine disease, such as nausea and high blood pressure.
  • Lifestyle modifications can include changes to your diet or exercise plan.
  • Surgery, medication, and/or radiation therapy may be appropriate for people with a tumor of the endocrine system.

When Should You See an Endocrinologist?

If you experience endocrine disorder symptoms, talk with your primary care provider who can order blood tests to screen for an endocrine condition. If needed, they’ll refer you to an endocrinologist.

To see an endocrinologist at U of U Health for any other endocrine disorder besides diabetes, you will need a referral from your primary care provider.

Find an Endocrinology Specialist

How to Test for Endocrine Disorders

Testing can determine whether you have an endocrine disorder and help your provider better understand how an endocrine disorder may be affecting your health. Tests may include:

Osteoporosis Testing

Many endocrine disorders can cause osteoporosis, a condition in which your bones become weak and brittle. Your primary care provider or endocrinologist may order a bone density (DEXA) scan to test for osteoporosis. DEXA scans are fast, easy, and painless. They involve a simple X-ray. Results will help your care team develop a personalized treatment plan for you.

What to Expect at Your First Appointment with an Endocrinologist

You will see an endocrinologist and a medical assistant during your first endocrinology appointment at U of U Health. Since we are a teaching hospital, you may also see a physician-in-training (a resident or fellow).

Please bring the following items with you:

  • List of current medications
  • Health insurance information
  • Lab results that may not be in your chart, such as hormone testing performed elsewhere
  • Personal health logs that may not be in your chart, such as logs for your blood glucose levels, food intake, or menstrual cycle

If you have diabetes, please bring any technology related to your care, such as a continuous glucose monitor and glucometer.

Your visit will include a conversation about your health history, symptoms, and lifestyle habits. We will also conduct a physical exam, including your height, weight, blood pressure, heart rate and review of any previous test results with you.

We may order additional blood tests or imaging to learn more about your condition. We’ll let you know when to return to the clinic for a follow-up visit.

Referral Process to See an Endocrinologist

If you have concerns about an endocrine disorder other than diabetes, you will need a referral from your primary care provider before scheduling an appointment. However, patients diagnosed with diabetes do not need a referral to see an endocrinologist at U of U Health. Call 801-581-7761 to schedule an appointment.

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