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Endocrinologists evaluate and treat patients suffering from hormonal imbalances and other conditions and diseases within the endocrine system.


diabetes testing
Diabetes patients use a blood glucose machine to record their blood sugar levels. Endocrinologists use the data to help manage their patients' diabetes, which may include insulin injections. (Photo by Steve C. Mitchell)

What does an endocrinologist do?

Endocrinologists diagnose glandular problems within the endocrine system, which includes the thyroid, pancreas, adrenal gland, pituitary gland, parathyroid gland, hypothalamus and the ovaries and testes.

Diabetes is perhaps the most prevalent disorder treated by a doctor specializing in endocrinology. The pancreas produces the insulin hormone, which the body needs to convert food into energy. Diabetes occurs when the body stops producing insulin—as in type 1, previously known as juvenile diabetes—or the body becomes resistant to it—as in type 2 diabetes.

When there's no more insulin in the body, blood glucose levels rise quickly and cause diabetes symptoms that may include extreme weakness or tiredness, irritability, dehydration, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, blurry vision or wounds that don’t heal well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Diabetes affects 29.1 million people or 9.3 percent of the U.S. population."

How does metabolism work?

Endocrinologists also diagnose and treat glandular disorders that affect the metabolism – which can result in either decreased or increased levels of energy – and reproduction, which can cause infertility. They help restore the body's hormones to normal functioning levels for patients suffering from thyroid diseases and metabolic disorders. They also treat early menopause and hypertension.

For example, when endocrine system disorders create imbalance in your body's hormone levels, they can affect your metabolism and the regulation of insulin and sugar levels. An underactive thyroid can lead to weight gain and sluggishness.

Pediatric endocrinology

Pediatric endocrinology is a pediatric subspecialty that focuses on endocrine disorders that affect physical growth and sexual development in children ranging from infants to teens. Some of the conditions pediatric endocrinologists diagnose and manage include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, congenital hypothyroidism, precocious puberty, delayed puberty, short stature and Turner syndrome.

In addition to attending medical school, doctors trained in pediatric endocrinology receive a three-year fellowship after completing a three-year pediatrics residency. The fellowship and the specialty, focus heavily on research, but not exclusively.

A pediatrician may be the first medical professional to diagnose an unusual growth or sexual development in a child. The doctor may refer the infant, adolescent or teen to a pediatric endocrinologist for tests.

You may help the doctor identify a problem sooner than he or she would, otherwise. Thoroughly read the information about childhood development the pediatrician gives you when you take your child for his or her annual visit. Ask for clarification on any part of the reading material you do not understand and share any concerns you have.

Choosing an endocrinologist

If you need the services of an endocrinologist, contact your health insurance provider to make sure that your insurance policy covers this medical specialty. You may need a referral from your primary care physician in order for your health insurer to pay for treatment. 

Read the list of endocrinologists in the provider directory of physicians that have contracted with your health insurance company to provide care to its policyholders. Then carefully research the endocrinologists you are considering. Verify their medical license, qualifications, board certification and continuing education through the American Board of Medical Specialties, and consult Angie's List, to read member reviews and rankings

Visiting an endocrinologist

During your appointment and initial consultation, the endocrinologist may perform several types of procedures to help diagnose your disorder. Depending on your unique symptoms and condition, the doctor may order lab tests to test hormone levels, check your cholesterol, take X-rays or take a biopsy sample. The endocrinologist will also ask for details about your diet and any nutritional supplements that you may be taking. The information is important, particularly if he or she suspects that you may have diabetes or are suffering from other glandular disorders.

Prepare and take with you a list of the types of foods you've been eating. Make sure to list any vitamins you take in addition to health food products that are a regular part of your diet. When going to an endocrinologist for the first time, you will find it helpful to have your regular doctor transfer your medical records. Don't hesitate to ask the endocrinologist any questions that might arise during your examination


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