Special problems that relate to hormone imbalance or growth and development often are referred to an expert for precise diagnosis and treatment. The endocrinologist is concerned with the study and function, in health and disease, of the dozens of different hormones secreted directly into the bloodstream by the endocrine, or duct-less, glands. These substances exert a powerful influence on the way we act, think, and respond to the stresses of life.

The major endocrine glands include the pituitary gland (traditionally known as the "master gland" because of its great influence on the other endocrine glands), parathyroid glands, thyroid gland, adrenal glands, islets of Langerhans (specialized groups of cells in the pancreas that secrete the hormone insulin), ovaries, and testes.

The body has two complex control systems that make it possible for an individual to respond quickly and efficiently to changes in the environment: the nervous system and the endocrine (or hormonal) system. Ordinarily hormones are released into the bloodstream following a specific stimulus of an endocrine gland---such as a nerve impulse or a change in the concentration of a specific substance carried to the gland in the blood. In a normal, healthy person the activity of the hormonal system is kept in delicate balance, but sometimes things can go wrong. This is where the endocrinologist comes in.

The endocrinologist deals with diseases that are caused by hormone imbalance. Thus, you are not likely to see an endocrinologist if you have a "garden variety" type of ailment such as a cold, sore throat, or strained back. You may need this specialist, however, if you have a goiter that won't regress, or if your physician suspects an problem in your pituitary function.

Certified endocrinologists have graduated from medical school, competed a 3-year residency internal medicine as well as a 2-year fellowship in endocrinology, and passed certifying examinations.

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