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The main connection between endocrinology and diabetes is that diabetes is a disease of the endocrine system. This system is important in regulating the body. It does this by producing hormones, which are chemical compounds that circulate through the blood and alter the function of distant organs. Diabetes represents a problem with insulin, which is a hormone important in regulating blood glucose levels. Specialists trained in endocrinology and diabetes — called endocrinologists — can care for patients affected with this condition.
Endocrinology is a specialty of medicine that focuses on the endocrine system, which is the network of organs and hormones important in maintaining a stable environment inside the body. Organs responsible for producing hormones include the pancreas, the thyroid, the adrenal glands, the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus, and the parathyroid glands. Others, such as the kidneys, help the endocrine system by producing some hormones, but also have other important functions.
Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which patients have a problem with a hormone called insulin. Endocrinology and diabetes are linked because diabetes represents a problem with the endocrine system. Normally, insulin is released from the pancreas when the body senses that there is a high level of glucose in the blood. This makes up part of the body's "full" response that takes place after meals.
The insulin should stimulate cells in the body to pick up the glucose from the blood and store it as food. When insulin is not working properly, patients develop high levels of glucose in the blood. This can cause symptoms such as increased urination, blurry vision, and decreased sensation in the hands and feet.
Traditionally, the field of endocrinology has separated diabetes into two main types, Type I and Type II diabetes mellitus. Type I results from a decreased production of insulin by the pancreas. It is considered an autoimmune disease, and typically is diagnosed in children. In contrast, Type II diabetes more frequently develops in adults, and occurs because the body becomes resistant to the effect of insulin. Higher and higher levels of insulin are needed to stimulate cells to pick up glucose, and eventually the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to meet this demand, resulting in high blood glucose levels.
Although diabetes can be treated by general physicians, endocrinologists offer advanced care for patients with diabetes. These doctors are trained in either internal medicine or pediatrics before attaining specialized training in the field of endocrinology. Their training in endocrinology and diabetes allows them to comprehensively treat the symptoms and complications experienced by patients with this condition.