Endocrine Disorders FAQs

Endocrine Disorder Questions & Answers

The endocrine system is a series of glands – the pituitary, pancreas, thyroid, adrenals, ovaries and testes – that regulate your body’s hormones. These glands can be affected by age, illness, exposure to chemicals, genetics, and lifestyle habits like diet and exercise, resulting in endocrine disorders. Learn the answers to frequently asked questions about these disorders and how Mercy endocrinologists treat them.

An endocrinologist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats conditions of the endocrine system, which regulates your body’s hormones. Mercy endocrinologists are experts at restoring hormonal balance, so you can feel your best.

Endocrinologists treat diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), thyroid disease, cancers of the endocrine glands, cholesterol or lipid disorders, hormone imbalance, infertility, growth disorders, menopause, metabolism disorders, weight problems, osteoporosis and other conditions.

Your first visit to a Mercy endocrinologist typically includes reviewing your medical history, a physical exam and talking about your symptoms. Your temperature, blood pressure, pulse, height, weight and vision may be checked. And your endocrinologist will likely order blood, urine or other tests to learn more about your health.

Start with your Mercy primary care physician, who can help determine whether specialist care is needed. Some health plans allow you to see specialists in their network without referrals. Contact your plan for details.

Endocrinologists specialize in metabolism and hormones, so they can assess the causes of weight gain or obesity. While there aren’t quick fixes when it comes to losing weight, an endocrinologist can help you identify underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to the problem.

People who’ve undergone cancer treatment are at higher risk of developing endocrine disorders. Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy can affect the ability of endocrine organs to produce hormones.

When your pituitary gland makes too much or too little of one of your hormones, you may have a pituitary disorder. It’s essential to seek treatment to restore hormonal balance and keep your body functioning as it should.

Pituitary disorders are often found when you see your Mercy provider about symptoms. Depending on the type of pituitary disorder and the hormones affected, you may not notice symptoms. But if you do, symptoms can include:


  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Weight changes
  • Feeling cold
  • Loss of body hair
  • Menstrual changes
  • Sexual disfunction
  • Headache
  • Vision changes


If your Mercy doctor suspects a pituitary issue, you may be referred to one of our endocrinologists. Your Mercy endocrinologist will review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and may order blood, urine or imaging tests.

The pituitary gland controls hormones that affect key body functions, such as:


  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone – stimulates cortisol production, which controls blood sugar, blood pressure, metabolism and other functions
  • Growth hormone – regulates growth in children, and helps adults maintain normal body structure
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone – controls thyroid hormone, which affects metabolism, weight and growth
  • Reproductive hormones – follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) both affect the reproductive cycle
  • Oxytocin – affects childbirth and lactation (breast milk production)
  • Prolactin – controls lactation
  • Antidiuretic hormone – controls fluid levels

Pituitary tumors are abnormal cell growths in the pituitary gland. Most are benign (noncancerous) and caused by overproduction or underproduction of hormones. A small percentage of pituitary tumors are caused by gene mutations (changes) inherited from one or both parents.

Hypopituitarism (or pituitary insufficiency) is a rare disorder caused by the pituitary gland not producing enough of certain hormones. When your body can’t get the hormones it needs, it affects key body functions.


Hypopituitarism can be caused by:


  • Noncancerous pituitary tumors
  • Head injuries
  • Bleeding near or in the pituitary gland
  • Medications
  • Cancer treatment
  • Infections like tuberculosis and meningitis
  • Hypophysitis (inflammation of the pituitary gland)

Cancerous pituitary tumors (pituitary carcinomas) are very rare. Few cases are reported worldwide. Pituitary carcinomas can occur at any age but are mostly found in older people. They can spread cancer to the brain, spinal cord or bone near the pituitary gland ― but it rarely spreads to other organs like the liver, heart or lungs.

Hormone disorders affect men and women alike. They can lead to sexual health and fertility problems, including: 


  • Ovarian insufficiency – ovaries don’t develop, or they stop functioning before age 40 (premature menopause)
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) — small cysts on the ovaries that can lead to infertility
  • Amenorrhea – starting menstruation older than age 16, or missing more than three months of menstrual periods
  • Hirsutism – excessive hair growth in children and women in areas where hair isn’t typically seen
  • Gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in men) – swollen male breast tissue caused by a hormone imbalance
  • Low testosterone – testicles don’t produce enough testosterone, causing infertility, low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, fatigue or depression

When your hormones aren’t produced at the right levels, it affects the way your body functions. Men and women alike can find their hormones out of balance at any age.


Talk with your Mercy primary care provider about your symptoms. If a hormone imbalance is suspected, you may be referred to a Mercy endocrinologist.

Hormonal imbalance is caused by overproduction or the underproduction of hormones. Depending on the type of hormone, different body functions are affected, such as:


  • Insulin – controls blood sugar levels
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone – regulates thyroid hormones, which affect metabolism, weight and growth
  • Stress hormones – adrenaline elevates heart rate and blood pressure; cortisol increases blood sugar and promotes healing
  • Appetite hormones – ghrelin signals you're hungry; leptin tells your body you’re full
  • Reproductive & sexual hormones – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, follicle-stimulating and luteinizing hormones affect sex drive and fertility
  • Serotonin – regulates mood, appetite and sleep
  • Growth hormone – affects growth, cell reproduction and regeneration

Blood tests are the most common way to check hormone levels. Several types of blood tests may be used, depending on your symptoms. And a saliva test can detect certain hormones as well.


Further testing may be needed if your endocrinologist is concerned about a gland. Imaging tests like ultrasounds, X-rays or MRIs are used to diagnose gland conditions. Lumps, cysts or other abnormalities may require biopsies.

Adrenal insufficiency is a disorder that occurs when your adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones. Three types of adrenal insufficiency can develop, including:

  • Primary adrenal insufficiency – adrenal glands become damaged and don’t make enough cortisol (also called Addison’s disease)
  • Secondary adrenal insufficiency – the pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), affecting cortisol levels in the body
  • Tertiary adrenal insufficiency – the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that controls the pituitary) doesn’t make enough corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which signals the pituitary to release ACTH

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands. Damage to either the adrenal or pituitary glands (which signal the adrenals) can cause a cortisol imbalance. Too much cortisol in the body for a long time can lead to Cushing's syndrome – a condition linked to obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other problems. Too little cortisol may be caused by Addison’s disease, which increases the risk of serious complications like organ failure.

Adrenal disorders occur when your adrenal glands don’t make enough – or produce too much – of hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, aldosterone (regulates blood pressure) and others.

People who develop Addison’s disease often have family histories of autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes or thyroid diseases. A family history of autoimmune illnesses can be a factor, but Addison’s disease is rare.

Adrenal fatigue isn’t recognized as a medical condition. It’s a term describing the belief that chronic stress affects the adrenal glands’ function and ability to produce cortisol. But no medical evidence exists to support these effects on the adrenals.

Talk with your Mercy provider if you’re having symptoms like fatigue, body aches, sleep disturbances, nervousness or weight changes. Your provider can help determine whether a medical condition is causing your symptoms.

Treatments for adrenal disorders may include:

  • Medication to stop excess hormone production
  • Hormone replacement, if levels are too low
  • Surgery to remove tumors of the adrenal or pituitary glands

Your Mercy endocrinologist will discuss treatment options and help you decide what’s right for you.


Addison’s disease, also called primary adrenal insufficiency, is a rare condition that occurs when damaged adrenal glands can’t produce enough cortisol or aldosterone (regulates blood pressure). Addison’s is considered an autoimmune disease – an illness that causes the immune system to mistakenly attack the body. With Addison’s, the immune system attacks and damages the adrenal glands. 

Addison’s disease affects both genders and people of all ages. It can lead to a life-threatening condition known as an Addisonian crisis, causing multiple organ failure and other complications.

Your Mercy endocrinologist may order tests such as:

  • Blood and urine tests – measure adrenal hormone levels, which can signal the presence of tumors
  • CT scans, MRIs or other imaging tests – detect and help diagnose tumors
  • Venous sampling – tests blood from the veins of each adrenal gland to help identify tumors, especially small ones not seen on imaging tests