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Endocrine disorders

Common problems with your glands

There are three broad groups of endocrine disorders:

  • Hyposecretion – the endocrine gland is not producing enough hormone. It can lead to hormone deficiency.
  • Hypersecretion – the endocrine gland is overactive and produces too much hormone. It can lead to excess levels of certain hormones.
  • Tumors of endocrine glands – these may be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous). Most endocrine tumors and nodules (lumps) are noncancerous. They usually do not spread to other parts of the body. However, a tumor or nodule on the gland may interfere with the gland's hormone production.

Types of Endocrine Disorders

  • Diabetes is the most common endocrine disorder diagnosed in the U.S. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas either does not produce sufficient insulin or the body cannot use the available insulin.
  • Adrenal insufficiency. The adrenal gland releases too little of the hormone cortisol and sometimes, aldosterone. Addison's disease is a type of adrenal insufficiency.
  • Cushing's disease. Overproduction of a pituitary gland hormone leads to an overactive adrenal gland. A similar condition called Cushing's syndrome may occur in people, particularly children, who take high doses of corticosteroid medications. 
  • Gigantism (acromegaly) and other growth hormone problems. If the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone, a child's bones and body parts may grow abnormally fast. If growth hormone levels are too low, a child can stop growing in height.
  • Hyperthyroidism. The thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, leading to weight loss, fast heart rate and nervousness. The most common cause for an overactive thyroid is an autoimmune disorder called Grave's disease.
  • Hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone, leading to fatigue, constipation, dry skin, and depression. The underactive gland can cause slowed development in children. Some types of hypothyroidism are present at birth.
  • Hypopituitarism. The pituitary gland releases little or no hormones. It may be caused by a number of different diseases. Women with this condition may stop getting their periods.
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia I and II. These rare, genetic conditions are passed down through families. They cause tumors of the parathyroid, adrenal, and thyroid glands, leading to overproduction of hormones.   
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Overproduction of androgens interfere with the development of eggs and their release from the female ovaries. PCOS is a leading cause of infertility.
  • Precocious puberty. Abnormally early puberty that occurs when glands tell the body to release sex hormones too soon in life.

What causes endocrine disorders?

Endocrine disorders arise because of problems with the glands of the endocrine system. The most common relate to problems with the pancreas or with the pituitary, thyroid, or adrenal glands not producing appropriate hormone levels.

Increased or decreased levels of endocrine hormone may be caused by:

  • A problem with the endocrine feedback system
  • Disease
  • Failure of a gland to stimulate another gland to release hormones (for example, a problem with the hypothalamus can disrupt hormone production in the pituitary gland)
  • A genetic disorder, such as multiple endocrine meoplasia (MEN) or congenital hypothyroidism
  • Infection
  • Injury to an endocrine gland
  • Tumor of an endocrine gland

Symptoms

The symptoms of an endocrine disorder vary widely and depend on the specific gland involved. However, common complaints are:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness 
  • Stomach upset
  • Dehydration
  • Skin changes
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nervousness