The endocrine system is the one in charge of maintaining the body’s chemical balance, but it is sometimes altered, causing some disorders and diseases. These alterations can affect an endocrine gland or an effector cell as well as the hormones’ regulation methods.
The main disorders of the hypophysis have to do with the total or partial suspension of the hormonal function that produces a specific gland, and among them we find:
– Hypopituitarism: it is the absence of one or more hormones of the hypophysis. The lack of one of them leads to the loss of this gland’s function or of the organ it controls. For example: the loss of the thyroid stimulating hormone causes a drop in the functioning of the thyroid gland. It is produced by vascular injuries that cause a hypophysis infarction (death of the hypophysis cells), infections, inflammations, tumors in neighboring organs or in the hypophysis itself. On some occasions, hypopituitarism is also caused by cranial trauma or due to a surgery or x-ray.
– Pituitary adenomas: they are tumors, generally benign, that can become very large and are classified into functioning and non-functioning. The first are the ones that produce an excess of some type of pituitary hormone and the second are not caused by hormones, but their symptoms are due to the compression of neighboring structures or due to the destruction of the gland.
– Acromegaly: it is caused by the excess of growth hormone (GH) after the normal development of an individual. This phenomenon caused a gradual growth of the body tissues, including the bones of the face, jaw, hands, feet and cranium. The cause of this size increase is usually a benign tumor in the hypophysis.
– Pituitary dwarfism: it is the consequence of the lack of growth hormone during the first years of life.
– Gigantism: it is a hormonal disease caused by the excessive secretion of the growth hormone during development stages.
– Chronic thyroiditis (or Hashimoto’s disease): it is an inflammation of the thyroid gland caused by a reaction of the immune system against it. The beginning of the disease is slow, and months or even years can go by in order for it to be detected.
– Hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxicosis: it is produced by the excessive release of T4 and T3 hormones for a short (acute hyperthyroidism) or long period (chronic hyperthyroidism). Its main symptoms are insomnia, palpitations, fatigue, sweating, low tolerance to heat, shaking of the hands, weight loss and diarrhea.
– Hypothyroidism: it is an affliction in which the thyroid gland does not manage to produce enough T4 and T3 hormones. The most common causes are thyroiditis, congenital defects, surgical extirpation of the thyroid gland, radiation of the gland or inflammatory disorders.
– Thyroid cancer: it is a malignant tumor that develops in the thyroid gland. The most common cause for this disease to develop is found in the patient having received radiation. Other risk factors are family history of this cancer and of chronic goiter.
There are four types of thyroid cancer:
1. Papillary carcinoma: it is the most common and least malignant. Generally, it affects women in their reproductive age.
2. Follicular carcinoma: it usually produces metastasis (spreading of the cancer to other organs of the body).
3. Medullary carcinoma: it is a cancer that starts in a type of cell known as C cell, that releases calcitonin hormone.
Although its cause is unknown, it is believed to be related to radiotherapy. There are two kinds of this carcinoma: sporadic (it is not hereditary) and hereditary.
4. Anaplastic carcinoma: it is the most malignant form of this type of cancer and it most frequently attacks people over 60. It does not respond to therapy with radioactive iodine and metastasizes quickly, invading neighboring organs like the trachea for example, causing trouble breathing.
– Goiter: it is the increase in size of the thyroid gland and its most common causes are a lack of iodine in the diet, congenital thyroid anomalies, benign and malignant tumors and thyroiditis.
The pathologies that affect the suprarenal glands are:
– Cushing’s syndrome: it is a disease caused by the increase in production of the cortisol hormone. The most common cause lies in the appearance of a tumor in the pituitary gland or in the suprarenal gland or in another place. It can also be caused by the prolonged use or corticoids (anti-inflammatory and immuno-suppressor medication).
– Cohn’s syndrome or hyperaldosteronism: there are two kinds: primary, which is characterized by the increase in the secretion of the aldosterone hormone, caused by the failure of the suprarenal gland, and secondary, which is also due to the increase of aldosterone production, but is caused by something foreign to the suprarenal gland.
– Pheochromocytoma: it is a tumor, normally benign, that develops in the medulla of the suprarenal gland due to excessive production of adrenalin and noradrenalin. The most common symptoms are headaches, palpitations and excessive sweating. On some occasions, it can also cause tremors, paleness, nausea, main of the abdomen or chest and weight loss.
Diseases of the parathyroid.
– Tetany: it is a disease caused by insufficiency in the secretion of the parathyroid hormone, which is secreted by the glands of the same name. It is characterized for causing painful muscle contractions of the limbs and a drop of calcium levels in the blood.
– Hyperparathyroidism: it is the excessive production of the parathyroid hormone. There are two kinds: primary, which is caused by the increase of one or more of these glands, and secondary, which presents itself when the body produces additional parathyroid hormone due to calcium levels being too low.
– Hypoparathyroidism: it is cause by the low production of parathyroid hormone. The most common cause is the injury of the glands during surgery of the head and neck.
– Parathyroid cancer: this disease is unusual and it is caused by the appearance of a malignant tumor in one or more of these glands. Its cause is unknown, but the people that suffer multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (hereditary disorder I which one or more of the endocrine glands forms a tumor) present a higher risk of contracting this pathology.
The most common disease of the endocrine system is produced in the endocrine pancreas: diabetes or diabetes mellitus. It is a disease in which an individual presents high levels of glucose or sugar in the blood due to the pancreas not producing enough insulin or the body (muscles, fatty tissue and hepatic cells) not assimilating it in a normal way or both.
There are two types of diabetes:
– Type I diabetes: it is generally diagnosed during childhood or puberty. As insulin is not produced, or little of it is made, daily injections of this hormone are necessary to survive.
– Type II diabetes: it appears as an adult and is caused because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, therefore, sugar does not pass from blood to the organs and bodily functioning weakens.
It is worth pointing out that there is another type of diabetes known as diabetes insipidus or water diabetes and it has to do with the anti-diuretic hormone or vasopressin. It causes the release of great amounts of urine which results in a thirsty sensation (polydipsia).