During the past couple of days, the Philippine College of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism held its 2023 convention with the theme “EVOLVED: Emerging Valuable Outcomes, Learnings and Views in Endocrinology and Metabolism.” These annual meetings are a part of continuing medical education, where endocrinologists refresh their knowledge and get updated in their field of expertise.
What is an endocrinologist and when should you see one?
An endocrinologist is an internal medicine doctor who subspecializes in the field of Endocrinology, which is the study of hormones. Hormones are chemical substances in the body that help other parts of the body communicate with each other. The body makes a vast number of hormones, such as insulin, thyroid hormone, cortisol, melatonin, estrogen and testosterone, to name a few.
These hormones have many functions, such as controlling metabolism, which is how the body uses the food that we eat as energy that it can use; growth; sexual function and reproduction, sleep, and bone health.
There are glands and organs in the body that make or process hormones. Some of these are the:
- Pituitary gland
- Thyroid gland
- Parathyroid glands
- Adrenal glands
Endocrinologists diagnose, treat and manage different endocrine problems. These include:
- Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes mellitus
- Gestational diabetes (diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy)
- Metabolic syndrome
- Hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels)
- Thyroid conditions
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Electrolyte and mineral disorders of sodium, potassium, phosphate and calcium
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Endocrine cancers and tumors
To become an adult endocrinologist in the Philippines, one must first complete the following:
- A bachelor’s degree from college
- Four to five years of medical school
- Three years of residency training in IM
- Pass the board exam in IM through the Philippine Specialty Board of Internal Medicine exam given by the Philippine College of Physicians
- Two years of fellowship training in a PCEDM-accredited training institution
- Pass an exam to become board-certified as an endocrinologist through the Philippine Specialty Board of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism through the PCEDM
These are some symptoms that might make you consider seeing an endocrinologist:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Sudden weight gain
- New or increased hair growth
- Feeling cold all the time
- Hot flashes
- Changes in menstrual periods
- Breaking a bone easily, with minimal trauma such as tripping or missing a step
However, there are many symptoms associated with endocrine diseases that can also mimic conditions of other parts of the body. For instance, the feeling of your heart beating fast can be due to a heart condition or hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone). Constipation may be due to a gastrointestinal problem, or due to hypothyroidism (not enough thyroid hormone), or it may also be due to a high calcium level.
Tell your physician how you feel and what makes you feel better or worse. Your physician will ask questions about your medical history, other symptoms and current medications. Also tell them about any supplements or herbal medications you may be taking. Your physician will then check your vital signs and may perform a physical exam. This can be followed by some blood and urine tests, and maybe an ultrasound or some other form of imaging of the affected part of the body.
Having a family history of endocrine problems can also lead to patients getting tested for these conditions. Your doctor may order tests, depending on your age and susceptibility, as well as any signs and symptoms you might have.
A new diagnosis can be scary, but if you are being treated by the right kind of doctor and seek help right away, you can be on your way to feeling better sooner, and prevent any possible future complications. If you suspect you have an endocrine disorder, an endocrinologist can help you manage and treat your condition.
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