Hormones are chemicals within the body that dictate how other parts of the body function. For example, certain hormones produced in the brain of a child determine the child’s growth, puberty, and metabolic function (how the body breaks down and uses food as energy).
The endocrine glands are responsible for releasing hormones into your bloodstream. When there is an imbalance or the endocrine glands are not working as they should, serious health problems can arise such as diabetes. The science of these glands and hormones is called endocrinology.
What Does a Pediatric Endocrinologist Do?
A pediatric endocrinologist treats children who have trouble with conditions related to hormones or glands. The health conditions that a pediatric endocrinologist treats are very different from those seen by an endocrinologist who treats adults. To become a pediatric endocrinologist, a person needs special training in the areas of development and growth in children.
Hormonal disorders are lifelong conditions. Pediatric endocrinologists are trained to address these disorders at all stages of childhood — from infancy through the teen years.
Education and Training
While a doctor is not required to become board certified as a pediatric endocrinologist to practice it, the training, education, and experience that comes with the certification boosts credibility and validates them in their field.
When a pediatric endocrinologist is board-certified, the certification acts as verification that they not only completed all of their required education to become a doctor, but they also completed a residency (first-hand experience at a medical facility) in that specialty. The certification in pediatric endocrinology is under the American Board of Pediatrics or the American Osteopathic Board of Pediatrics.
Their course of training is rigorous and includes:
- Obtaining an undergraduate degree, typically in pre-medicine
- Earning a doctorate of osteopathic medicine or medical degree from an accredited (approved) college of osteopathic medicine or medical school
- Completing a pediatrics residency
- Passing an exam certifying that the doctor has the appropriate skills and knowledge in pediatrics
- Completing a pediatric endocrinology training program
- Passing an exam certifying that the doctor has specialized skills and knowledge that are relevant to pediatric endocrinology
Additionally, the doctor must participate in continual learning in order to hold a board certification in pediatric endocrinology.
What Conditions Does a Pediatric Endocrinologist Treat?
A pediatric endocrinologist treats hormonal disorders in children, but there are a lot of conditions that fall under this broad specialty.
Some of the more common conditions found in children include:
- Adrenal disorders (problems with adrenal glands)
- Obesity and overweight
- Bone disorders
- Disorders of sex development
- Pituitary disorders (trouble affecting secretion of hormones in pituitary gland)
- Thyroid disorders
- Growth disorders
- Reproductive system and puberty problems
- Endocrine gland cancers
If you believe that your child needs to see a pediatric endocrinologist, talk to their pediatrician or primary care doctor about a referral.
Reasons to See a Pediatric Endocrinologist
You might bring your child to a pediatric endocrinologist if your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor has identified a specific condition such as diabetes or if they suspect a problem with your child’s puberty or growth. Pediatric endocrinologists deal directly with those conditions.
If your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician suspects or diagnoses a condition related to hormones or glands that produce them, they may refer you to a pediatric endocrinologist. Adding a specialist to your child’s healthcare team will ensure that they get the best possible care.
What to Expect at the Pediatric Endocrinologist Appointment
The first pediatric endocrinologist appointment for your child is mostly to get information. The doctor will review your child’s medical history and ask you important questions regarding medical conditions in your family. Your child may go through some diagnostic tests, like bloodwork and X-rays.
Once a diagnosis is established, the doctor, you, and often your child will meet to discuss the diagnosis and the possible treatments. If your child requires surgery or needs to see another specialist, the doctor will make the referral at that time.
In following appointments, your child will undergo treatment to address the condition. These include:
- Medication: This can include vitamins, hormonal therapy treatments, medication for diabetes, cancer chemotherapies, and others
- Counseling: This can be anything from planning a course of action to discussing behavior and lifestyle changes for patients
- Exercise: Includes both cardiovascular (heart-related) and weight-bearing exercises
- Radiation: This can include radiation therapy or radioactive isotopes, or it can mean surgery
- Diet: May include nutrition education, prescribed eating plans, or special weight-focused medication or treatments
- Referral for surgery: This could include surgery for: weight loss, endocrine gland removal (full or partial removal), and cancerous and noncancerous tumor removal
Subsequent appointments with the endocrinologist will address changes to your child’s condition, the development of new symptoms, check-ups, and to administer ongoing treatment therapies.