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What is Pediatric Endocrinology?

Pediatric endocrinology [en-doh-kruh-NOL-uh-jee] is a branch of medicine that focuses on the endocrine [EN-duh-krin] system in children. The endocrine system creates and controls your child’s hormones. The hormones in your child’s body regulate everything from their body temperature to their mood, growth, and more.

Hormones are secreted by endocrine glands, such as the pituitary [pi-TOO-i-ter-ee] gland, thyroid, ovaries, or adrenal [uh-DREEN-l] glands. These hormones are sent through the blood stream to various tissues and organs in the body. When there is an imbalance of your child’s hormones, it can cause bothersome and often serious problems.

The most common endocrine disorders are related to problems of the pancreas or the pituitary, thyroid, or adrenal glands. These problems can be caused by either a hormonal imbalance or by tumors.

Common endocrine disorders in children include the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disorders (hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism)
  • Early onset of puberty
  • Delayed puberty
  • Growth hormone deficiency (short stature)
  • Turner syndrome
  • Tumors

Symptoms of an endocrine disorder vary widely depending on the specific gland involved. Symptoms of an endocrine disorder may take months or years to show up. Most children with an endocrine disorder will have the following symptoms.

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Unexplained weight loss/gain
  • Failure to meet growth milestones (falling behind on growth charts)

In some cases, the causes of endocrine problems are unknown. There are risk factors that can increase your child’s chances of developing an endocrine disorder. These risk factors include obesity and genetics.

When to See a Doctor

Some endocrine problems may be detected during your child’s annual wellness check-ups. For example, your child’s doctor may notice your child is falling behind on the growth chart. This is a symptom of a problem with your child’s hormone system.

If your child has symptoms of an endocrine problem, you should contact your child’s doctor. They will likely refer you to a specialist called an endocrinologist. A pediatric endocrinologist is a specialist who treats children who suffer from hormonal imbalances or problems with the endocrine glands.

Blood tests will generally help your doctor diagnose common endocrine disorders. Treatment will depend on the specific endocrine disorder. Hormone therapy is generally the first line of defense for treating pediatric endocrine disorders.