Endocrine diseases are caused by an inadequate functioning of the hormonal system. Early diagnosis reduces the risk of complications and improves life expectancy.
Last update: 28 April, 2022
When we speak of the endocrine system we refer to a set of glands and organs responsible for regulating various functions in the human body through the release of hormones. However, there are situations in which balance can be affected. Here we tell you the 10 most common endocrine diseases.
Hormones are organic substances that travel in the blood and act as chemical messengers, regulating metabolism. They are synthesized and released in amounts sufficient to meet the needs of the body.
endocrine disorders are diseases characterized by malfunction of specialized organs in the production of hormones, such as the thyroid, pancreas, ovaries and adrenal glands.
Endocrine pathologies are caused by excessive or deficient secretion of hormones in the body. In most cases they are caused by a problem in the gland itself or by abnormal stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis.
1. Diabetes mellitus
This is a chronic disorder characterized by a partial or total deficit in insulin secretion or by an insufficient response of the tissues to its action. This hormone is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels and stimulating the metabolism of proteins and fats.
For this reason, the affected person will present hyperglycemia and other symptoms such as the following:
Exaggerated need to eat.
Increased urinary frequency.
Sudden weight loss or obesity.
Diabetes is one of the most common endocrine diseases, with a prevalence of 10 to 15% in the adult population, according to studies. The diagnosis of this entity is made by measuring fasting blood sugar levels and after food intake. Blood glucose values above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) are characteristic of this disease.
Diabetes treatment includes changes in lifestyle, diet, and exercise habits. Similarly, some patients are controlled with hypoglycemic drugs or insulin injections.
Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when decreased function of the thyroid gland with a deficit in the secretion of thyroid hormones. Research confirms that this pathology increases with aging and is more common in women, with a prevalence of up to 4.8% in those over 65 years of age.
Symptoms are barely noticeable at first. However, as the condition progresses, it is common to find fatigue, weakness, dry skin, intolerance to cold, constipation, weight gain, hoarseness, and swelling of the face. Some people have muscle aches, irregular menstruation, depression, and bradycardia.
Hypothyroidism is diagnosed by measuring the levels of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood. Treatment is based on the use of oral levothyroxine, a synthetic form of thyroid hormone. Some complications include cardiac, mental, neurological, and reproductive problems.
Unlike hypothyroidism, in this disease there is an overactivity of the thyroid gland with excessive secretion of hormones. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves-Basedow disease. Studies estimate a prevalence of 0.2% in the European population.
In most cases, people experience an enlarged thyroid gland, or goiter. The excessive concentration of thyroid hormones conditions the acceleration of several of the bodily functions with the following symptoms:
Increased blood pressure and palpitations.
Heat intolerance and excessive sweating.
Tremors, nervousness and anxiety.
Changes in menstruation.
Bulging eyes or exophthalmos.
Hyperthyroidism is confirmed by thyroid function tests. Symptoms decrease by treating the underlying cause.
However, some patients require medications such as methimazole and propylthiouracil to decrease hormone production. In addition, beta-blockers such as propranolol reduce cardiovascular risk.
4. Addison’s disease
Addison’s is one of the most common endocrine diseases with a prevalence of 4 to 6 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to research. This is one form of primary adrenal insufficiency, in which there is a deficit in the production of glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and androgens.
The most common cause is autoimmune adrenalitis.
Clinical manifestations appear progressively and include tiredness, extreme fatigue, dizziness, constipation or diarrhea, and loss of appetite. Similarly, dark spots on the skin, lips, and gums are common.
Diagnosis of Addison’s disease is made by blood tests, adrenocorticotropin stimulation test, and insulin-induced hypoglycemia test. Imaging studies are sometimes necessary to assess the size of the gland. Hormone replacement therapy is done with hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone.
5. Cushing’s disease
This is an endocrine-metabolic disorder in which there are excessive concentrations of corticosteroids, such as cortisol. It is usually caused by prolonged steroid use or excessive hormonal secretion. Within organic causes, the most common are adrenal and pituitary tumors.
Research estimates an incidence of 2 to 3 cases per million inhabitants, the most common form being adrenocorticotropin (ACTH)-dependent with 85% prevalence. Weight gain with fat deposition in the abdomen, face, and neck is characteristic.
In addition, the following symptoms and signs can be found:
Acne and hirsutism.
Thin and fragile skin.
Decreased libido and erectile dysfunction.
On the other hand, the diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome is made by assessment of cortisol levels in the blood and imaging studies. The treatment plan includes the establishment of a high-protein diet, the use of drugs to reduce cortisol levels and surgery or radiotherapy in the case of tumor processes.
Acromegaly is a condition characterized by excess production of growth hormone (GH) after closure of the epiphyseal plates of long bones. Its incidence is 6 cases per million inhabitants, according to some investigations. 90% of cases are caused by pituitary tumors.
In general, there is evidence of progressive and abnormal growth of the soft tissues of the face, hands and feet. Other frequent symptoms and signs in acromegaly are the following:
Increased facial features and jaw protrusion.
Increase in the size of the tongue.
Fatigue and muscle weakness.
Deep and thick voice.
Thick and rough skin.
Similarly, there is damage to multiple organs such as the heart, liver, and thyroid. Diagnosis is based on the determination of elevated levels of growth hormone and insulin-like peptide 1 (IGF-1). Treatment includes the use of GH blocking drugs, surgery for tumor masses, and radiotherapy.
Gigantism is an endocrine disease resulting from excess growth hormone (GH) during childhood, before the epiphyseal plates close. Contrary to what happens in acromegaly. Research indicates that 99% of cases are caused by benign tumors that produce GH.
Gigantism is characterized by a abnormal bone growth, reached great height, with elongation of the arms and legs. Similarly, there may be delayed puberty, visual problems, gapping teeth, coarse facial features, a hoarse voice, excessive sweating, and sleep problems.
The diagnosis is based on the determination of GH levels in the blood and skull imaging studies. In addition, there are usually elevated blood sugar levels and increased blood pressure. Treatment is similar to that used in the management of acromegaly.
Short stature can be caused by multiple causes. One of the most common reasons is hypopituitarism, in which the pituitary gland does not secrete sufficient amounts of one or more hormones. In this case, dwarfism is the product of a deficit in the secretion and release of growth hormone.
Short stature and short limbs are the most frequent manifestations. In addition, there is usually pubertal delay, problems for acquisition motor skills, joint pain and respiratory problems.
Diagnosis requires multidisciplinary assessment with determination of insulin-like peptide 1 (IGF-1) levels in blood and imaging studies. Hormone replacement therapy improves growth rate in children.
Hypogonadism is one of the most common endocrine diseases during childhood and adolescence. It is the result of a decreased release of sex hormones by problems in the ovaries or testicles.
In hypogonadism in men, testosterone deficiency conditions problems in spermatogenesis, according to studies. In addition, it is characterized by the following manifestations:
Breast enlargement or gynecomastia.
Lack of body and facial hair.
Small testicles and penis.
Poor muscle development.
On the other hand, in female hypogonadism, decreased estrogen levels promote irregularities in the menstrual cycle and fertility problems. Other common symptoms are the following:
Low cut and short neck.
Infantilism of the genitals.
Low set hair.
Weakness and mood swings.
Insufficient breast development.
10. Polycystic ovary syndrome
This is one of the most common endocrine diseases in women of reproductive age. In most cases, the condition is a result of elevated levels of male hormones in the blood. This fact promotes the appearance of small cysts in the ovaries.
The symptoms of polycystic ovaries can appear before puberty or in adult life. In general, we can find the following manifestations:
Acne and hair loss.
Irregular menstrual cycles.
Anovulation and fertility problems.
This entity is diagnosed by comprehensive gynecological evaluation and performance of blood tests and ultrasound studies. Treatment includes changes in diet and physical exercise, as well as the use of medications to regulate the menstrual cycle, such as contraceptives and progestin therapies.
A group of disorders that are becoming more frequent every day
These disorders are a group of pathologies caused by an imbalance in the production and release of various hormones. Diabetes, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome are some of the most common endocrine diseases.
All these conditions are becoming more frequent in our society, associated with life habits and changes in family inheritance. Annual check-ups by health professionals allow them to be detected in time and determine a better quality of life.
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About The Author
Catherine A. Johnson