What Is an Endocrinologist?

Endocrinologists are doctors who specialize in glands and the hormones they make. They deal with metabolism, or all the biochemical processes that make your body work, including how your body changes food into energy and how it grows.

They may work with adults or kids. When they specialize in treating children, they're called pediatric endocrinologists.

What Do Endocrinologists Do?

They cover a lot of ground, diagnosing and treating conditions that affect your:

  • Adrenals, glands that sit on top of your kidneys and help to control things like your blood pressure, metabolism, stress response, and sex hormones
  • Bone metabolism, like osteoporosis
  • Cholesterol
  • Hypothalamus, the part of your brain that controls body temperature, hunger, and thirst
  • Pancreas, which makes insulin and other substances for digestion
  • Parathyroids, small glands in your neck that control the calcium in your blood
  • Pituitary, a pea-sized gland at the base of your brain that keeps your hormones balanced
  • Reproductive glands (gonads): ovaries in women, testes in men
  • Thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that controls your metabolism, energy, and brain growth and development

Training

Endocrinologists are licensed internal medicine doctors who have passed an additional certification exam.

They go to college for 4 years, then medical school for 4 more years. Afterward, they work in hospitals and clinics as residents for 3 years to get experience treating people. They'll spend another 2 or 3 years training specifically in endocrinology.

The whole process usually takes at least 10 years.

Where to Find One

An endocrinologist can work in:

  • A medical practice with other endocrinologists
  • A group with different kinds of doctors
  • Hospitals

You can search for one on the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists website.

Some don't see patients. They may work in universities or medical schools, where they teach medical students and residents or do research.

When to See an Endocrinologist for Diabetes

Your regular doctor can treat diabetes, but they might refer you to an endocrinologist when:

  • You're brand new to diabetes and need to learn how to manage it.
  • They don't have a lot of experience treating diabetes.
  • You take a lot of shots or use an insulin pump.
  • Your diabetes has gotten tough to manage, or your treatment isn't working.
  • You have complications from diabetes.

You can always ask to go to an endocrinologist, too, even though your doctor doesn't suggest it first. When you see one, you'll still need to visit your primary doctor as well. They'll work together.

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Appointments With Your Diabetes Doctor

Your endocrinologist will ask you about how you feel, what you're doing to manage your diabetes, and any trouble you're having.

Take your blood glucose journal or logs with you, and let your endocrinologist know what's been going on with you. What's changed since the last time you saw them?

  • Symptoms
  • Eating differently
  • Working out more or less
  • Been sick lately
  • Started taking any medicines, vitamins, or supplements

Chances are they'll want to check your blood pressure and your feet and test your blood glucose, urine, and cholesterol.

If you take insulin, you should probably see your diabetes doctor every 3 or 4 months. Otherwise, you can go a little longer between visits, every 4 to 6 months. You may have to go more often when your diabetes isn't under control, you have complications, or you have new symptoms or they get worse.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on February 24, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American College of Physicians: "Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism."

Hormone Health Network: "Fact Sheet: Adrenal Incidentaloma," "What Is an Endocrinologist?" "Value of an Endocrinologist."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Adrenal Insufficiency & Addison's Disease."

PubMed Health: "Hypothalamus."

American Diabetes Association: "Common Terms."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Hyperparathyroidism in Children."

Australian Thyroid Foundation: "The Thyroid Gland."

American Board of Internal Medicine: "Endocrinology, Diabetes, & Metabolism Policies."

University of Utah Health Care: "When Should You See a Diabetes Specialist?"

Mayo Clinic: "Type 2 diabetes: Preparing for your appointment."

Cleveland Clinic: "Diabetes: Management."

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