The Endocrine System

The endocrine system is one of the body’s main systems for communicating, controlling and coordinating the body’s work. It works with the nervous system, reproductive system, kidneys, gut, liver, pancreas and fat to help maintain and control the following:

  • body energy levels
  • reproduction
  • growth and development
  • internal balance of body systems, called homeostasis
  • responses to surroundings, stress and injury

The endocrine system accomplishes these tasks via a network of glands and organs that produce, store, and secrete certain types of hormones. Hormones are special chemicals that move into body fluid after they are made by one cell or a group of cells. Different types of hormones cause different effects on other cells or tissues of the body.

Endocrine glands make hormones that are used inside the body. Other glands make substances like saliva, that reach the outside of the body. Endocrine glands and endocrine-related organs are like factories. They produce and store hormones and release them as needed. When the body needs these substances, the bloodstream carries the proper types of hormones to specific targets. These targets may be organs, tissues, or cells. To function normally, the body needs glands that work correctly, a blood supply that works well to move hormones through the body to their target points, receptor places on the target cells for the hormones to do their work, and a system for controlling how hormones are produced and used.

What could go wrong? Endocrine system diseases and disorders happen when one or more of the endocrine systems in your body are not working well. Hormones may be released in amounts that are too great or too small for the body to work normally. These irregularities are also called a hormone imbalance. There may not be enough receptors, or binding sites, for the hormones so that they can direct the work that needs to be done. These hormone imbalances may be the result of a problem with the system regulating the hormones in the blood stream, or the body may have difficulty controlling hormone levels because of problems clearing hormones from the blood. For example, a hormone imbalance may occur if a person’s liver or kidneys are not working well, resulting in a hormone level in the bloodstream that is too high.

If you or your primary care physician suspects that you have an endocrine disorder, you may need a specialist called an endocrinologist. An endocrinologist is a specially trained doctor who diagnoses and treats endocrine system diseases, which are diseases that affect your glands and hormone levels. They know how to treat conditions, which are often complex and involve many systems and structures within your body. Your regular doctor refers you to an endocrinologist when you have a problem with your endocrine system.