Patient Education: Endocrine System
The endocrine system is a series of glands throughout the body that regulate the body through the secretion of hormones into the blood which target and affect the function of other organs. These hormones are responsible for a wide range of functions including reproduction, responses to stress and injury, growth and sexual development, body energy levels, internal balance of body systems and bone and muscle strength.
Parts of The Endocrine System
The pituitary gland is often referred to as the control center of the endocrine system. This is because it controls and regulates the functions of the other endocrine glands within the body. Remarkably, this regulating gland located at the base of the brain is no larger than the size of an average pencil eraser. The pituitary gland is connected to the brain via the hypothalamus. Ensuring that the pituitary gland is healthy and functioning properly is important to the body’s overall well-being.
The body has four parathyroid glands that are located just behind the thyroid gland (which is the center of the neck at the front). These glands act as a type of thermostat or regulator that controls the blood level of calcium. It is essential to keep the blood level of calcium under tight control because calcium is needed inside just about every cell in the body in order to keep that cell functioning properly. When the blood level of calcium is too high or too low bad things can happen, even to the point of being life-threatening.
The pancreas is a glandular organ in the digestive system and endocrine system of vertebrates. This endocrine gland produces several important hormones, including insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide which circulate in the blood. The pancreas is also a digestive organ, secreting pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes that assist digestion and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. These enzymes help to further break down the carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids in the chyme.
The thyroid gland controls how quickly the body uses energy, makes proteins, and controls how sensitive the body is to other hormones. It participates in these processes by producing thyroid hormones, the principal ones being triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (sometimes referred to as tetraiodothyronine(T4)).
The adrenal glands are two small structures that sit on top of the kidneys, deep in the back, behind the abdominal cavity and well beneath the back muscles. Although they are small, usually weighing each about a tenth of an ounce, they are powerful factories that produce many hormones that are critically important to your overall health and well-being.
The ovaries are two small organs located on either side of the uterus in a woman’s body. They make hormones, including estrogen, which trigger menstruation. Every month, the ovaries release a tiny egg. The egg makes its way down the fallopian tube to potentially be fertilized. This cycle of egg release is called ovulation.
Testosterone is not only required for normal sexual function, but also to maintain normal bone and muscle mass, red blood cell count and general well-being. Thus men with low testosterone may present with erectile dysfunction, low libido, fatigue, loss of muscle strength, anemia, and low bone density. Pituitary tumors sometimes present this way and these men may have a high level of prolactin from the tumor that may also cause a low testosterone.