An endocrinologist is a physician who specializes in treating the hormone-producing glands of the endocrine system. The endocrine system plays a major role in the way the body responds to both internal and external stimuli. Endocrinologists undergo advanced training enabling them to detect, treat, or cure diseases and disorders within this complex system.
The Endocrine System
Endocrine glands produce hormones that the bloodstream carries throughout the body. These hormones trigger a response in other glands, causing them to release a different hormone. Hormones can also induce a certain response in the body’s organs. For example, when the adrenal glands release adrenaline into the bloodstream, the heart rate quickens and the fight-or-flight response is triggered. Elsewhere, the pancreas regulates blood glucose levels by releasing insulin when levels begin to rise.
An endocrinologist’s job is to treat hormone disorders such as diabetes in their patients. A patient is often referred to an endocrinologist by a primary care physician when they suspect their patient is experiencing a hormone disorder. The endocrinologist will typically perform a series of tests and try to make a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, the treatment phase can begin. During this phase of the cycle, the endocrinologist will help educate the patient about their condition and recommend a treatment if one is available. The specialist will continue to monitor the patient’s progress over the course of treatments, which can last a lifetime in the case of some chronic conditions.
Some endocrinologists choose to specialize even further within their field. Conditions like diabetes, although at the core a hormone disorder, require a broad understanding of many other areas in order to properly treat all of the risk factors. Since people with diabetes have a higher risk of experiencing eye, blood vessel, foot, and kidney problems, diabetic specialists must be well versed in all facets of the disease to give their patients the best possible care.
Not all disorders are isolated to only the endocrine system. Some begin within the endocrine system but are connected to the body’s other systems and processes. This is why endocrinologists must also have a strong background in all areas of internal medicine and know when to turn to specialists in other fields. They typically spend four years in medical school, an additional three years of residency, followed by two to three years of specialty training in endocrinology.