Ask a Cardiologist: What Is Endocrinology?
There are many reasons endocrinology may be an area of focus for a cardiologist. This study of the endocrine system can often help shed light on many different diseases and dysfunctions in the body, including various types of heart disease. The system is made up of several important organs and glands that produce essential hormones and distribute them throughout the body.
What are the major components of the endocrine system?
The hormones produced by this life-sustaining system are responsible for human growth and development, sexual reproduction, mood regulation, metabolism and digestion. The following organs and glands are the key parts of the endocrine system:
- Thyroid and parathyroid
- Adrenal Glands
- Ovaries or testes
- Pineal gland
- Pituitary gland
If one or more of these organs or glands fail to function properly, a drop or increase in hormone levels may occur. This can lead to changes in heart rate, undesirable weight gain, difficulty sleeping or trouble conceiving a child. In more severe cases, diseases of the endocrine system may develop, such as diabetes or thyroid disease, which can increase a person’s risk for heart disease.
How does endocrinology impact heart health?
When hormones fluctuate to unhealthy levels, there is a negative impact on the cardiovascular system. Depending on the type of hormonal change, a patient could be affected by a chronic condition that either leads to heart disease or greatly increases the risk of developing a cardiovascular condition. While there are dozens of complications that may arise from an unhealthy endocrine system, some of the most common issues directly impact heart health and require treatment and care from a cardiologist.
Type 2 diabetes
A person becomes a diabetic when the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin. This hormone breaks down excess sugar in the bloodstream and sends it to the cells as fuel for energy. High levels of glucose in the bloodstream can lead to blockages or a contracting of the blood vessels. In these situations, a stroke or a heart attack is much more likely. In some cases, the long-term poor circulation can ultimately lead to amputation, usually of the feet or legs.
Many people think of high blood pressure as a result of too much fat and salt in the diet combined with high levels of stress. While this is often true, certain hormone imbalances may also contribute to hypertension. Approximately 10% of adults have high blood pressure due to primary aldosteronism, which is caused by a dysfunction of the adrenal gland. Fortunately, this condition is usually reversible.
A simple blood test can determine a patient's triglyceride levels, which are impacted by more than just diet and exercise. Hormonal changes can raise triglyceride levels, putting an individual at risk for pancreatitis and serious heart disease. A cardiologist will likely recommend positive lifestyle changes along with medication to help address this problem.
Heart health can be directly connected to the endocrine system. Changes in hormone levels will likely impact the cardiovascular system sooner or later. A cardiologist may often need to focus on endocrinology to successfully determine the root cause of certain types of heart disease.
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