The endocrine system is a system of glands, each of which secretes a type of hormone to regulate the body. The endocrine system is an information signal system much like the nervous system. Hormones regulate many functions of an organism, including mood, growth and development, tissue function, and metabolism. The field of study that deals with disorders of endocrine glands is endocrinology, a branch of the wider field of internal medicine.
Although we rarely think about them, the glands of the endocrine system and the hormones they release influence almost every cell, organ, and function of our bodies. The endocrine system is instrumental in regulating mood, growth and development, tissue function, and metabolism, as well as sexual function and reproductive processes.
The endocrine system is made up of a series of ductless glands that produce chemicals called hormones. A number of glands that signal each other in sequence is usually referred to as an axis, for example, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Typical endocrine glands are the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands. Features of endocrine glands are, in general, their ductless nature, their vascularity, and usually the presence of intracellular vacuoles or granules storing 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. Also controls metabolism in our body system.
In general, the endocrine system is in charge of body processes that happen slowly, such as cell growth. Faster processes like breathing and body movement are controlled by the nervous system. But even though the nervous system and endocrine system are separate systems, they often work together to help the body function properly.
The foundations of the endocrine system are the hormones and glands. As the body's chemical messengers, hormones transfer information and instructions from one set of cells to another. Although many different hormones circulate throughout the bloodstream, each one affects only the cells that are genetically programmed to receive and respond to its message. Hormone levels can be influenced by factors such as stress, infection, and changes in the balance of fluid and minerals in blood.
A gland is a group of cells that produces and secretes, or gives off, chemicals. A gland selects and removes materials from the blood, processes them, and secretes the finished chemical product for use somewhere in the body. Some types of glands release their secretions in specific areas. For instance, exocrine glands, such as the sweat and salivary glands, release secretions in the skin or inside of the mouth. Endocrine glands, on the other hand, release more than 20 major hormones directly into the bloodstream where they can be transported to cells in other parts of the body.
The major glands that make up the human endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroids, adrenals, pineal body, and the reproductive glands, which include the ovaries and testes. The pancreas is also part of this hormone-secreting system, even though it is also associated with the digestive system because it also produces and secretes digestive enzymes.
Although the endocrine glands are the body's main hormone producers, some non-endocrine organs — such as the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, thymus, skin, and placenta — also produce and release hormones.
Diseases of the endocrine system are common, including conditions such as diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and obesity. Endocrine disease is characterized by dysregulated hormone release (a productive pituitary adenoma), inappropriate response to signaling (hypothyroidism), lack of a gland (diabetes mellitus type 1, diminished erythropoiesis in chronic renal failure), or structural enlargement in a critical site such as the testis (toxic multinodular goitre). Hypofunction of endocrine glands can occur as a result of loss of reserve, hyposecretion, agenesis, atrophy, or active destruction. Hyperfunction can occur as a result of hypersecretion, loss of suppression, hyperplastic or neoplastic change, or hyperstimulation.
Too much or too little of any hormone can be harmful to the body. For example, if the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone, a child may grow excessively tall. If it produces too little, a child may be abnormally short.
Controlling the production of or replacing specific hormones can treat many endocrine disorders in children and adolescents.
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