Endocrinology is a branch of medicine dealing with disorders of the endocrine system and its specific secretions called hormones.
Although every organ system secretes and responds to hormones (including the brain, lungs, heart, intestine, skin, and the kidney), the clinical specialty of endocrinology focuses primarily on the endocrine organs, meaning the organs whose primary function is hormone secretion. These organs include the pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, testes, and pancreas.
Endocrinologist are doctors who specializes in treating disorders of the endocrine system, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and many others. They are specialists of internal medicine or pediatrics. Reproductive endocrinologists deal primarily with problems of fertility and menstrual function - often training first in obstetrics. Most qualify as an internist, pediatrician, or gynecologist for a few years before specializing, depending on the local training system. In the U.S. and Canada, training for board certification in internal medicine, pediatrics, or gynecology after medical school is called residency. Further formal training to subspecialize in adult, pediatric, or reproductive endocrinology is called a fellowship. Typical training for a North American endocrinologist involves four years of college, four years of medical school, three years of residency, and three years of fellowship
The medical specialty of endocrinology involves the diagnostic evaluation of a wide variety of symptoms and variations and the long-term management of disorders of deficiency or excess of one or more hormones.
The diagnosis and treatment of endocrine diseases are guided by laboratory tests to a greater extent than for most specialties. Many diseases are investigated through excitation/stimulation or inhibition/suppression testing. This might involve injection with a stimulating agent to test the function of an endocrine organ. Blood is then sampled to assess the changes of the relevant hormones or metabolites. An endocrinologist needs extensive knowledge of clinical chemistry and biochemistry to understand the uses and limitations of the investigations.
A second important aspect of the practice of endocrinology is distinguishing human variation from disease. Atypical patterns of physical development and abnormal test results must be assessed as indicative of disease or not. Diagnostic imaging of endocrine organs may reveal "spots," called incidentalomas, which may or may not represent disease.
Endocrinology involves caring for the person as well as the disease. Most endocrine disorders are chronic diseases that need life-long care. The most common of these is diabetes mellitus. Care of diabetes and other chronic diseases necessitates understanding the patient at the personal and social level as well as the molecular, and the physician-patient relationship can be an important therapeutic process.
Apart from treating patients, many endocrinologists are involved in clinical science and medical research, teaching, and hospital management.
- Endocrinology (British online textbook)
- Endotext (American online textbook)
- Journals Designed for Clinical Endocrinologists
- On-Line Endocrinology Journal Club (via JournalReview.org)
- Useful Endocrinology Resources for Residents