What Does an Endocrinologist Do? Your Hormone Specialist
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 receive a firm diagnosis and high-quality specialized treatment, 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, 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 many illnesses or conditions that afflict adults. Patients who are suffering from thyroid problems, diabetes, and other conditions may be referred to an internal endocrinologist who specializes in that particular field.
Reasons to 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 severe 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.
When you first meet with an endocrinologist, they 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. Also, 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 perimenopause 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.
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.
Finding an Endocrinologist
Hormonal conditions can often be serious, long-lasting challenges for patients. When your doctor refers you to an endocrinologist, it's usually so you can receive more specialized care than they're equipped to provide. If you've been referred to an endocrinologist by your doctor, it's perfectly reasonable to want to learn more about the specialist you're going to see. You can Google your provider to read reviews and check if they are board certified in your state. You may also want to do independent research if you want to seek a second opinion or find a specialist who is covered by your insurance.
Questions for Your Endocrinologist
It's a good idea to prepare for your appointment with an endocrinologist by having some questions ready.
- What is your process for diagnosis? Learn as much as you can about any diagnostic tests and procedures you'll undergo, as well as when the results will be ready and what the most likely possible outcomes will mean for you.
- Are there any precautions I should take with my treatment? For example, what are the side-effects of the medication?
- What lifestyle changes will improve my condition? Your doctor will likely speak to you about this, but you might ask them for some resources and help with learning how to implement these healthy habits most effectively.
You can also find a little peace of mind by using CareDash's database of endocrinologists and other doctors to check for malpractice claims and leave your review.
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