What is Endocrinology?
Endocrinology is a medical specialty that deals with glands and hormones. Hormones are substances that act like chemical messengers between parts of the body. They are produced by glands, and travel in the bloodstream throughout the body where they act on different organs and cells to affect many different functions of life. Hormones control our appetite, growth, reproduction, and energy. When there is too little or too much of a hormone, an endocrinologist can help restore the balance.
Endocrinology problems are sometimes difficult and complex because hormones travel throughout the body and can affect more than one system. A single, simple imbalance can produce multiple, very different symptoms. Just a few of the diverse diseases treated by an endocrinologist include:
Diabetes (where insulin is not produced in the body or is not working well, and blood sugar levels rise, which damages tissues)
Hypothyroidism (where thyroid hormones are not produced well, reducing cell metabolism and energy)
Precocious Puberty (where reproductive hormones are produced too early in a child’s life)
Gigantism (where growth hormones are overproduced, leading to unusual size)
Endocrinology can contain subspecialties where physicians focus their care on specific groups of patients. For example, some endocrinologists are diabetic endocrinologists who know specifically how to care for diabetics’ particular needs in eye care, circulation, and foot care. Pediatric endocrinologists treat children. Whatever their subspecialty, all endocrinologists have the same goal: restoring balance when the body’s messaging system is not working correctly.
What is Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility?
Reproductive endocrinology and infertility is a subspecialty of OB/GYN that deals specifically with human reproduction: getting and staying pregnant. There are many disorders that can interfere with this process, causing infertility. Reproductive endocrinologists help their patients conceive and have healthy babies.
Infertility is technically diagnosed if a couple has not had a successful pregnancy after one year of unprotected sex. Patients with known fertility issues may be referred to a reproductive endocrinologist before the one year mark. Infertility is more common than you might think, affecting approximately 15% of both men and women in the United States. Many reproductive endocrinologists provide care for men in their practice, although some refer men’s infertility care to associated urologists.
A wide variety of issues can cause fertility problems, from age to hormonal imbalances to structural disorders. Some of the disorders seen and services provided by a reproductive endocrinologist include:
Infertility evaluation and treatment, including IVF
Fertility preservation, or freezing eggs, sperm, and embryos
Donor eggs, sperm or embryos
Uterine structure anomalies
Reproductive surgeries, such as tubal ligation reversals and removal of fibroids
There have been incredible advances in the past few years in treatments for infertility. A reproductive endocrinologist is a highly skilled physician who can help patients toward a successful pregnancy.
What is Pediatric Endocrinology?
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by the body and flow through the bloodstream. They control a number of important functions, including growth, metabolism, and sexual development. Doctors that treat hormonal problems are called endocrinologists, and endocrinologists that work with children are pediatric endocrinologists.
Pediatric endocrinologists treat children of all ages, from newborn babies to young adults. Because hormones affect growth and sexual development, endocrine disorders affect children and teens very differently than they do adults. Some disorders, such as precocious (early) puberty, only affect children. Some endocrine disorders have different symptoms in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. A pediatric endocrinologist must be aware of how hormonal problems specifically affect children’s health and development.
Diabetes, a disease caused by problems with the hormone insulin, is the most common disorder treated by pediatric endocrinologists. Other issues include:
Growth disorders, which prevent children from growing or maturing as expected
Pituitary or adrenal disorders
Sex hormone disorders, where the body produces either too little or too much of the hormones that affect puberty and sexual development
Intersex, a group of conditions that make a person's sex unclear
Vitamin D deficiency
Problems with calcium metabolism
Treatment for transgender children, who feel they do not match the gender associated with their external genitalia (many, but not all, pediatric endocrinology offices provide this service)
For most endocrine disorders, treatment involves medication taken to either supplement or suppress certain hormone levels.
Since hormones control so many functions within the body and are so crucial during the early stages of life, an endocrine disorder can be devastating for a child. Pediatric endocrinologists help get your child’s hormones back in balance.
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