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The Endocrine System Essentials

  • The endocrine system is made up of a network of glands.
  • These glands secrete hormones to regulate many bodily functions, including growth and metabolism.
  • Endocrine diseases are common and usually occur when glands produce an incorrect amount of hormones.
Simply put, the endocrine system is a network of glands that secrete chemicals called hormones to help your body function properly. Hormones are chemical signals that coordinate a range of bodily functions.
The endocrine system works to regulate certain internal processes. (Note: endocrine shouldn’t be confused with exocrine. Exocrine glands, such as sweat and salivary glands, secrete externally and internally via ducts. Endocrine glands secrete hormones internally, using the bloodstream.)
The endocrine system helps control the following processes and systems:
  • Growth and development
  • Homeostasis (the internal balance of body systems)
  • Metabolism (body energy levels)
  • Reproduction
  • Response to stimuli (stress and/or injury)
The Endocrine Network
The endocrine system completes these tasks through its network of glands, which are small but highly important organs that produce, store, and secrete hormones.

Simply put, endocrinology is the study of endocrine glands. Endocrine glands are a group of glands in the body which secrete hormones. The purpose of the secreted hormones is to evoke a specific response in other cells of the body which are located far away. As shown in the picture, the hormones are secreted into the blood stream, giving them access to all other cells of the body.

Endocrine surgery is the division of surgery which specializes in the surgical treatment of endocrine diseases. Endocrinologists and endocrine surgeons typically work closely together to provide the most advantageous care to patients afflicted with endocrine disorders. To be recognized as an endocrine surgeon (and a member of the American Association for Endocrine Surgeons), you have to devote a major portion of your surgical practice to endocrine disorders and have performed at least 100 endocrine operations. There aren't too many surgeons who specialize in endocrine surgery!

Examples of Endocrine Glands and Their Hormones

  • Thyroid Gland. Located in the front of the neck. Secretes thyroid hormone.
    Purpose: Regulate the body's overall metabolism.
  • Parathyroid Glands. There are 4 parathyroid glands located behind the thyroid. Secretes parathyroid hormone.
    Purpose: Absolute control over calcium levels throughout the body.
  • Adrenal Glands. There are 2 adrenal glands located on the top of each kidney. Inner part secretes adrenaline, outer part secretes aldosterone and cortisol.
    Purpose: Maintain salt levels in the blood, maintain blood pressure, help control kidney function, control overall fluid concentrations in the body.
  • Neuroendocrine Glands of the Pancreas. Located deep in the abdomen behind the stomach, the pancreas is primarily a digestive organ. It also contains extremely important endocrine cells which secrete: insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and others.
    Purpose:
    Control blood gluocse (blood sugar) and overall glucose metabolism (important in diabetes), help control other endocrine cells of the digestive tract.
  • Pituitary Gland. The pituitary is located at the base of the brain. Secretes thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), adrenocotropic hormone (ACTH), and others.
    Purpose: Control the activity of many other endocrine glands (thyroid, ovaries, adrenal, etc.).

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