The endocrine system

Many bodily processes – from digestion to reproduction – are controlled by hormones, and defects in the endocrine system can have dramatic effects. Retarded growth in children, the swollen neck of goitre, the growth of facial hair in women and even impotence in men can all have a hormonal cause. An endocrinologist, a specialist in hormonal disorders. Makes a diagnosis based on the patient’s symptoms and possibly by making tests to determine the levels of particular hormones in the bloodstream. Underproduction of a hormone by an endocrine gland may be corrected by administering the missing hormone; for example, the growth hormone somatotropin may be given to a child to prevent dwarfism from developing. Overproduction of a hormone is often caused by enlargement of a gland or a tumour growing in it.

In such cases, possible treatments include surgery (to remove part of the gland or the growth) or radiotherapy, either using an external source of radiation or, for certain disorders, injection of a radioactive isotope that is preferentially absorbed by a particular gland.

For sexual disorders of physical origin in women, such as those concerned with menstruation or pregnancy. The endocrinologist works closely with a gynaecologist. Some hormones are produced in a woman’s body only during labour and when she is breast-feeding a baby.

The most common endocrine disorder is diabetes mellitus. In which correct control of the body’s blood sugar (glucose) fails because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Today diabetics can lead normal lives by taking regular doses of the missing insulin. Originally this hormone had to be made from animal glands, then it was synthesized in the pharmaceutical laboratory. The latest development in this branch of endocrinology has been the application of genetic engineering techniques to make insulin and other hormones.