When most people think of hormones, they think of things that cause bad moods or stress. But hormones are so much more than that; as a key regulating agent in your body, hormones are vital tools that you need just to live normally from one day to the next.
Unfortunately, there’s no button you can press that allows you to control your hormones when something goes wrong with them. Your primary-care physician can help you narrow down the options if a hormonal imbalance is suspected, but to be sure, you may be referred to an endocrinologist.
What is an endocrinologist?
An endocrinologist focuses on treating issues with the glands and the diseases that relate to them. Glands release and regulate hormones throughout the body, and hormones operate behind the scenes to control many of the bodily functions we take for granted, such as feeling hungry or sleepy at the expected times. When your hormones don’t operate as they should, an endocrinologist may be called in.
Endocrinology is a broad field that encompasses a number of specialties, including:
- Reproductive endocrinologists, who work with matters involving fertility. The causes of infertility can be complicated indeed, and endocrinologists of this specialty use a wide-ranging approach to resolve issues that might block conception.
- Pediatric endocrinologists, who work specifically with hormonal issues that affect children. Children experiencing problems with their growth hormones may suffer a range of complications as a result. Endocrinologists of this specialty can also treat children afflicted with metabolic disorders such as type 1 diabetes.
- Internal endocrinologists, who treat a number of illnesses or conditions that afflict adults. Patients suffering from thyroid problems, diabetes and other conditions may be referred to an internal endocrinologist who specializes in that particular field.
Why see an endocrinologist?
Doctors refer their patients to endocrinologists when they observe the possibility of a hormonal imbalance of some kind. Many complications can result from these hormonal imbalances; learning which hormone or bodily structure is involved can make a crucial difference in determining your treatment options. Some of the most common reasons for seeing an endocrinologist include:
- Type 1 diabetes, in which the body fails to produce the insulin hormone. Since insulin is needed to moderate glucose levels, and glucose imbalances can have serious consequences if left untreated, an endocrinologist seeks to increase and stabilize the production of insulin in the body.
- Type 2 diabetes, in which the body makes insulin but can’t absorb it adequately. Since diabetes is a life-long condition, endocrinologists employ various tools to help the body control its insulin level.
- Hyperthyroidism, in which the body’s thyroid gland makes too much of the thyroid hormone for other systems to compensate. Endocrinologists often turn to anti-thyroid medicines to treat this condition.
What kinds of treatment should you expect?
When you first meet with an endocrinologist, she will probably want to conduct some diagnostic testing to determine what’s causing your problem. Your precise treatment options will naturally depend on your individual circumstance, but a few of the most common treatments give you an idea of how endocrinologists operate:
- Patients suffering from hyperthyroidism are often provided with beta-blockers. The purpose of these blockers is to control some of the more unpleasant side effects of hyperthyroidism, such as heart palpitations or anxiety.
- Endocrinologists can provide diabetes patients with the tools they need to control and monitor their disease. In addition, when more specialized forms of treatment are needed, endocrinologists often step in to administer medication such as metformin or insulin therapy; both are intended to assist the body’s regulation of insulin in various ways.
- Women in peri-menopause sometimes experience hormonal irregularities that an endocrinologist can help with. In more serious cases, endocrinologists may prescribe medications or even a form of hormonal replacement therapy to help smooth the transition to menopause.
Check provider reputation and qualifications
Hormonal conditions can often be serious, long-lasting challenges for patients. When your doctor refers you to an endocrinologist, it’s generally so you can receive more specialized care than she’s equipped to provide. But if you’re going to be working with an endocrinologist, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to learn more about how endocrinologists are trained.
Endocrinologists are physicians who have obtained either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree. They are further required to complete the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), finish a three-year residency in a hospital or clinic and fulfill an additional fellowship that focuses specifically on endocrinology. Lastly, board-certified endocrinologists are required to enroll in continuing medical education to renew their license to practice.