Learning About Your Endocrine System

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The endocrine system

What does the endocrine system do?

Your endocrine system is made up of glands in your body. These glands send hormones into your bloodstream.

Hormones are chemicals that tell cells and organs what to do. Your body makes hundreds of hormones. They help control things like your appetite and your blood pressure. They even play a role in how your body reacts to stress. An example is the way insulin tells your cells how to use sugar for energy. Sex hormones control male and female traits, puberty, childbirth, and menopause.

What problems can happen with your endocrine system?

  • Infertility. This may be caused by a problem with the hormones that control ovulation in women and the making of sperm in men.
  • Hyperthyroidism. This condition can change your energy level. It can make you lose weight. And it can give you a fast heart rate. It is caused by having too much thyroid hormone in your body.
  • Hypothyroidism. It can make you feel tired. And it can make you feel constipated. It is caused by not having enough thyroid hormone in your body.
  • Diabetes. This happens when your body can't produce enough of the hormone insulin or can't use it properly. Then your body can't regulate the amount of sugar in your blood. High blood sugar can damage your eyes, nerves, kidneys, and blood vessels.
  • Missed or irregular periods. The hormones that control menstruation can go out of balance in some women.

How can you prevent endocrine problems?

Some endocrine problems, like type 1 diabetes, can't be prevented. But there are things you can do to prevent other problems or make them better:

  • Stay at a healthy weight. Eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise. This can help prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.
  • Include iodine in your diet. It can help prevent thyroid problems. When you use salt, choose iodized salt over other kinds of salt.
  • Make sure all your doctors know about any hormones you're taking. These may include birth control medicine, thyroid hormone, insulin, or hormone therapy for menopause.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.