What Does an Endocrinologist Do and When to See One

  • Endocrinologists are medical specialists qualified to diagnose conditions that affect the glands and treat hormone imbalances.
  • Among the many conditions covered by endocrinologists are those that affect endocrine organs such as the adrenals, pituitary, thyroid, ovaries and pancreas.
  • Endocrinologists must deal with all the biochemical processes within the body including metabolism, growth and development.

Endocrinologists are specially trained doctors who diagnose conditions affecting the glands or are caused by problems with hormones such as diabetes, menopause and thyroid disorders. An endocrinologist alone may detect, deal and manage all the biochemical processes within the body including metabolism, reproduction, food absorption and utilization, growth and development.

They may treat adults or kids. They are called pediatric endocrinologists when they specialize in treating children.

What conditions do endocrinologists treat?

They cover a lot of ground, dealing with the many systems that make the body work. They are trained to diagnose and treat hormone imbalances by helping to restore the normal balance of hormones in the body. Some of the conditions treated by an endocrinologist are those that affect your:

  • Adrenal glands, which are located on top of both kidneys, that produce hormones that help regulate your blood pressure, metabolism, stress response, and sex hormones
  • Bone metabolism such as osteoporosis
  • Cholesterol
  • Hypothalamus, or the part of your brain that controls body temperature, hunger, and thirst
  • Pancreas, which produces insulin and other digestive substances
  • Parathyroids, small glands in your neck that regulate the calcium in your blood
  • Pituitary, a pea-sized gland at the base of your brain that balances your hormones and controls many other vital physical functions and processes
  • Reproductive glands: ovaries in women, testes in men
  • Thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that manages your metabolism, energy, brain growth and development

Training for endocrinologists

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It takes at least 10 years to become a fully-trained endocrinologist. Typically, it involves four years of college, 4 years of medical school, three or four years of internship and residency covering internal medicine, pediatrics or obstetrics and gynecology while getting first-hand experience treating people, and 2 or 3 years of learning how to diagnose and treat hormone conditions.

Endocrinologists are also licensed internal medicine doctors who have passed an additional certification exam.

Where to find an endocrinologist

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You can ask your primary care physician (PCP) or you can visit the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists website. Certified endocrinologists can also be found working in hospitals, or with fellow endocrinologists or with other medical professionals. There are also some who don’t see patients and work instead in universities or medical schools where they teach and train medical students, or do research.

When Should Someone See an Endocrinologist for Diabetes?

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Although your primary care physician can treat diabetes, they might refer you to an endocrinologist when:

  • You’ve been newly diagnosed with diabetes and still learning how to manage it.
  • Your doctor has not treated many diabetes patients or you are unsure about their treatment.
  • You take a lot of shots or use an insulin pump.
  • Your diabetes is uncontrollable or conventional treatment does not work.
  • You are having diabetes-related complications.

If you choose to see an endocrinologist, you will still need to visit your primary doctor because they usually work together.

What to expect from your appointments with a diabetes doctor

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A visit to the endocrinologist would normally involve:

  1. Questions about how you feel and explanations about your diabetes management plan (always bring a record of your blood sugar readings), and questions about your current symptoms, family history, eating habits, and what’s changed since your last check-up.
  2. Your doctor will also want to know the medications, vitamins or supplements you’re currently taking.
  3. They will likely check your blood pressure, your feet, and test your blood glucose, urine, and cholesterol.

For those taking insulin: I’s probably best to see your diabetes doctor every 3 to 4 months, otherwise, every 4 to 6 months will do. However, when your diabetes is out of control, you have complications, or you have new symptoms or have worsening symptoms, you have to visit your doctor more often. 

Source: WebMD

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