Endocrinologists: Who are they and what do they do? Know your Endo

Emma Matthews

You’ve probably noticed that, ‘twixt these pages, hormones come up a lot. Like, a lot. Clearly, we’re passionate about them, and not just because we deal with them on a regular basis. Hormones are the control mechanism for almost every system in your body. So we thought we’d take a look at their home, the Endocrine system, and the Endocrinologists who treat you when something goes wrong. Which it inevitably will.

Ovaries before Brovaries

If you’re part of the 50 percent or so of the planet who identifies as a woman, then you currently, or at one time, lived at the mercy of a monthly visit to hormone hell. Which means you’re already incredibly familiar with one part of the Endocrine anatomy: Your ovaries. Or testes if you now, or have ever, owned a pair. The fluctuating combination of the hormones Estrogen, Progesterone, and Testosterone can cause havoc on a 28-day basis. It can also result in small humans.

The Endocrine system, though, is so much larger and more complicated than reproductive services. And they’re complicated enough, right? In total, the different types of hormones in the human body number somewhere between 50 and 70. And they all play vital and incredibly complex roles.

Endocrine Anatomy

From appetite and metabolism, to growth, heart function, and immunity, a fully functioning Endocrine system is vitally important for your overall health. And you know that’s true, because of how God awful you feel when something is off. But you can also see how important it is when you know which organs and glands make up the Endocrine anatomy.

Working up-ish from your ovaries, your stomach and small intestine secrete their own hormones which deal with appetite and digestion. Your adrenal glands take care of stress and blood pressure. The pancreas helps regulate blood sugar. Even your heart is part of the system, producing hormones to help it function at a healthy rate.

Glands and more

Then we’ve got the hopefully now-familiar Thyroid and Parathyroid glands. They’re responsible for all manner of life-affecting stuff, including metabolism and sleep. But here’s where it gets really interesting. The whole hormone extravaganza is controlled by three separate glands in your brain. The pituitary, hypothalamus, and pineal glands are in charge of literally everything we’ve mentioned.

There is, however, one final hormone-producing element in all our bodies: fat. Yup, even fat cells can affect your hormone balance.

With such a complex system, it’s no surprise that things go awry. And when things go wrong, they go really wrong. Diabetes, misbehaving Thyroid and Parathyroids, Addisons disease, and Polycystic ovaries are just a few of the Endo-related conditions we live with. And any one of those conditions can have dire consequences if left unchecked or, God forbid, undiagnosed.

That’s where your friendly local Endocrinologist comes in. These hormone specialists are specifically trained to identify and treat any and all issues arising from an endocrine point of view.

Endocrinologists = Hormone specialists

Generally, Endocrinologists see patients by referral from a primary care doctor. Once it’s established that your hormones are out of whack, the Endocrinology clinic takes over and helps decipher what your hormones are telling you.

That may well involve a blood test, or a scan. But it will, hopefully, also include an in-depth discussion of your symptoms and their severity.  After the results are in, you may never see your hormone doctor again, particularly if your primary care physician can manage your condition. If you need specialist monitoring, though, you may well become a regular visitor to the Endocrinology clinic. Be warned, though, some conditions take extended periods of treatment. And that can include surgery to help with illnesses like Graves Disease.

At least, that’s what should happen. If like many of us, you’ve already come into contact with Endocrinologists, then you’ll know that just getting in the door can take years. Diagnosis can take even longer and treatment can last a lifetime. But the career of an Endocrinologist doesn’t last anywhere near that long. Strap in gang, you’re about to get very annoyed.

Are Endocrinologists Late bloomers?

Even when you’ve got through the clinic door, your endocrinologist is probably already on their way out of it. And that’s because there’s a good chance they didn’t start practicing the specialism until they were in their mid-40s. In both the U.S and the U.K., a doctor can’t simply decide to be an Endocrinologist right out of medical school.

Before they can even think about specializing, MDs have to complete a further decade of study and qualification. Which sounds like great news. It is, after all, an important, complicated and nuanced subject that should take a long time to become proficient in. But in reality, it’s an off-puttingly long time to wait before practicing. Which means most doctors simply don’t. And that’s not even the worst of Endocrinology’s current problems.

The end of Endocrinologists as we know them?

That late start means that an Endocrinologist’s career will likely be short-lived. Which would be fine if there were newly-qualified specialists following them. But there are not. According to research published in 2020, America is suffering a terrifyingly short supply of Endocrinologists. The numbers are down by the thousands, at a time when diabetes and obesity are at incredibly high levels.

In short, there aren’t enough hormone doctors to treat the patients that exist now. Then there’s the fact that many specialists simply don’t have the time or energy to keep up with the latest developments. That’s when there are any — money for research is almost non-existent. Add in the long hours, enormous amounts of paperwork, and the lowest salary of any specialism anywhere, and we’re looking at the end of Endocrinology as we know it.

It’s up to us

How did we get here? That’s a very good question. And it may have something to do with that incredibly long run-up to practicing as a hormone specialist. It just might be that, because the specialist training is so extensive, general medical training doesn’t really cover it at all.

In some cases, medical students only learn about the Endocrine system as it relates to diabetic patients. And that’s about it. A system that covers the entire body, and newly qualified doctors know next to nothing about it. You’d think hormones only affected women or something. But what’s worse is that medical students don’t learn how wonderful and complex the Endocrine system really is. So why choose it as a career? All of which adds up to very bad news for current — and future — patients.

Now, we didn’t just tell you all that depressing shiz for no reason. If you’re wondering why it’s taking so long to get an appointment with the Endocrinologists at your local clinic, this is why. And as always, it’s up to us, as patients, as women, as humans, to show healthcare providers just how important Endocrinology is to the wellbeing of the world.

Unfortunately, that means homework. So, if something’s wrong, absolutely insist on seeing a specialist. And then keep insisting. But educate yourself. Join a patients group. Annoy your insurer or provider with your up-to-date knowledge of the latest treatments and therapies. Demand that health practitioners start taking hormones seriously for all genders, at all life stages. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll start to listen.

The Hormona Community

Through the sheer force of our collective will, we can save the slowly sinking ship that is Endocrinology, and get everyone’s hormones on the right track. But in order to do that, we need to pool our resources. Join the community, sign up to the app, and track all your symptoms and progress. And let us know how you’re getting on. Tell us about your successes and failures, and let’s keep building a powerful Hormona community that gets shiz done!

Disclaimer: This website does not provide medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Posted By  : Emma Matthews

Emma Matthews

Emma Matthews

Emma Matthews is a seasoned freelance writer and editor who first became obsessed with hormones following a Graves Disease diagnosis age 21. She has, since then, discovered that obsessing about her health doesn’t pay the bills, so she put her other obsessions - TV, True crime - to good use. She’s written for, among others, the Den of Geek, Buffy, CSI, Supernatural and Stargate Magazines, as well as the Crime and Investigation Network. She’s currently lamenting the coming end of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but thanks the universe that we’ve still got Drag Race. Even if Michelle Visage won’t talk to her…