Endocrinology (from endocrine + -ology) is a branch of biology and medicine dealing with the endocrine system, its diseases, and its specific secretions known as hormones. It is also concerned with the integration of developmental events proliferation, growth, and differentiation, and the psychological or behavioral activities of metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sleep, digestion, respiration, excretion, mood, stress,
lactation, movement, reproduction, and sensory perception caused by hormones. Specializations include behavioral endocrinology and comparative endocrinology.
The endocrine system consists of several glands, all in different parts of the body, that secrete hormones directly into the blood rather than into a duct system. Hormones have many different functions and modes of action; one hormone may have several effects on different target organs, and, conversely, one target organ may be affected by more than one hormone.
The endocrine system is a chemical messenger system consisting of hormones, the group of glandsof an organism that secrete those hormones directly into the circulatory system to regulate the function of distant target organs, and the feedback loops which modulate hormone release so that homeostasisis maintained. In humans, the major endocrine glands are the thyroid gland and the adrenal glands. In vertebrates, the hypothalamus is the neural control center for all endocrine systems. The study of the endocrine system and its disorders is known as endocrinology. Endocrinology is a branch of internal medicine.
Special features of endocrine glands are, in general, their ductless nature, their vascularity, and commonly the presence of intracellular vacuoles or granules that store their hormones. In contrast, exocrine glands, such as salivary glands, sweat glands, and glands within the gastrointestinal tract, tend to be much less vascular and have ducts or a hollow lumen. A number of glands that signal each other in sequence are usually referred to as an axis, for example, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
In addition to the specialized endocrine organs mentioned above, many other organs that are part of other body systems, such as bone, kidney, liver, heart and gonads, have secondary endocrine functions. For example, the kidney secretes endocrine hormones such as erythropoietin and renin. Hormones can consist of either amino acid complexes, steroids, eicosanoids, leukotrienes, or prostaglandins.
The endocrine system is in contrast to the exocrine system, which secretes its hormones to the outside of the body using ducts. As opposed to endocrine factors that travel considerably longer distances via the circulatory system, other signaling molecules, such as paracrine factors involved in paracrine signalling diffuse over a relatively short distance.
The word endocrine derives via New Latin from the Greek words ἔνδον, endon, "inside, within," and "crine" from the κρίνω, krīnō, "to separate, distinguish".
The medical specialty of endocrinology involves the diagnostic evaluation of a wide variety of symptoms and variations and the long-term management of disorders of deficiency or excess of one or more hormones.
The diagnosis and treatment of endocrine diseases are guided by laboratory tests to a greater extent than for most specialties. Many diseases are investigated through excitation/stimulation or inhibition/suppression testing. This might involve injection with a stimulating agent to test the function of an endocrine organ. Blood is then sampled to assess the changes of the relevant hormones or metabolites. An endocrinologist needs extensive knowledge of clinical chemistry and biochemistry to understand the uses and limitations of the investigations.
A second important aspect of the practice of endocrinology is distinguishing human variation from disease. Atypical patterns of physical development and abnormal test results must be assessed as indicative of disease or not. Diagnostic imaging of endocrine organs may reveal incidental findings called incidentalomas, which may or may not represent disease.
Endocrinology involves caring for the person as well as the disease. Most endocrine disorders are chronic diseases that need lifelong care. Some of the most common endocrine diseases include diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism and the metabolic syndrome. Care of diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases necessitates understanding the patient at the personal and social level as well as the molecular, and the physician–patient relationship can be an important therapeutic process.
Apart from treating patients, many endocrinologists are involved in clinical science and medical research, teaching, and hospital management.