What are endocrine disorders in women?
The endocrine system is a network of glands that produce and release hormones that help control many important body functions, including the body’s ability to change calories into energy that powers cells and organs. The endocrine system influences how your heart beats, how your bones and tissues grow, even your ability to make a baby. It plays a vital role in whether or not you develop diabetes, thyroid disease, growth disorders, sexual dysfunction, and a host of other hormone-related disorders.
Symptoms of endocrine disorders
There is no specific set of symptoms for endocrine disorders. This because symptoms will vary depending on the specific type of endocrine disease the patient has, as well as the severity of their condition.
For example, hyperthyroidism, a disease characterized by the overproduction of thyroxine in the thyroid gland, can cause sudden weight loss, tremors, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, thinning of the skin, and other symptoms. However, parathyroid gland diseases can cause a very different set of symptoms, such as lack of energy, depression, osteoporosis, recurring headaches, kidney stones, and others.
Although no symptoms are universal, weakness and fatigue are commonly reported and it is generally prudent for patients to seek medical attention when noticing any significant changes in their daily functioning. Because the endocrine system is organized and uses hormones to communicate with the glands that control and coordinate growth, energy level, reproduction, and other functions, any change in one gland can cause changes in another.
The glands that make up the endocrine system include:
- Pituitary gland
- Thyroid gland
- Parathyroid gland
- Kidney glands
- Ovaries (in women)
- Testicles (in men)
Some conditions that affect female reproduction are caused by endocrine disorders. For instance, many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, in which the body cannot use insulin professionally. This leads to high levels of insulin in the blood, called hyperinsulinemia.
Hyperinsulinemia is believed to be related to increased androgen levels, as well as obesity and type 2 diabetes. In turn, obesity can increase insulin levels, resulting in an exacerbation of PCOS.
Several other causes can manipulate the endocrine system in ways that create problems with female reproduction, including:
- Thyroid disorders (resulting from missing glands, cancer, genetic disorders)
- Adrenal hyperplasia (endocrine disorders of genetic origin that affect female reproduction)
- Tumours in the pituitary gland
In many cases, endocrine disorders that affect female reproduction occur due to a genetic predisposition or a malformation of genetic material during development.
In many cases, endocrine disorders can be asymptomatic or mild enough not to require treatment. When the symptoms of endocrine disorders are bothersome, they can usually be treated by correcting the hormonal imbalance.
This is often done by administering synthetic hormones. In cases like prolactinoma, where a non-cancerous tumour is responsible for the symptoms, surgery, or radiation therapy may be used. Often, diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause of the endocrine disorder will resolve the symptoms.
Blood and urine tests to check your hormone levels can help your doctors regulate if you have an endocrine disorder. Imaging tests may be done to help locate or identify a nodule or tumour. Treating endocrine disorders can be difficult, as a change in one hormonal level can alter another.
Complications of endocrine disorders
While most endocrine disorders are mild and slowly progressing, certain endocrine disorders can lead to complications over time, as imbalanced hormonal signalling affects normal bodily processes. In cases of Addison’s disease and hypothyroidism specific, acute attacks or crises can have thoughtful complications. Diabetes can also have life-threatening complications.
Complications from untreated or poorly controlled endocrine disorders can be serious and even life-threatening in some cases. You can help minimize the risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan that you and your healthcare professional have designed specifically for you.
Complications of certain endocrine disorders include:
- Anxiety or insomnia (in many thyroid conditions)
- Coma (in hypothyroidism)
- Depression (in many thyroid conditions)
- Heart disease
- Damage to the nerve
- Organ damage or failure