Endocrinologists and Diabetes

Diabetes is commonly known as a disease that affects a person’s blood sugar. What most people do not realize is that it is also a hormonal disease. Insulin, the key component in diabetes, is a hormone. If you suffer from type 1 diabetes, or if you suffer from type 2 diabetes and have trouble keeping your blood sugar levels stable, you will benefit from seeing an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in hormone disorders.

The Endocrinologist

An endocrinologist is a specialist who studies disorders in the glands. He or she has training in various diseases that involve hormonal glands, including diabetes. An endocrinologist will have the most up-to-date information on treatments and medicines for managing your condition.

The Endocrine System

The endocrine system is in charge of the growth of cells in the body, the growth of organs, and metabolism. It keeps the body’s hormones and hormone secretion levels in balance. The organs and glands work in tandem and when one is not functioning correctly it puts all of the others at risk.[1]

For example, in the body of a type 1 diabetic patient the pancreas does not properly produce the insulin hormone. Taking insulin, if you are a type 1 diabetic, is part of the solution. However, glands and organs can still become over-stressed and cause insulin levels to fluctuate, even if administering insulin. For this reason, seeing an endocrinologist is of primary importance as you work to manage your type 1 diabetes.

An endocrinologist will examine each gland and organ to determine if they are functioning correctly. The glands include the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, the adrenal glands, the thyroid, the parathyroid, and the reproductive glands.[2] All of these glands must work together to keep the body in balance.

Let’s take a look at an example of what happens when one gland, the pituitary gland, is not in balance:

A noticeable symptom among diabetics is excessive thirst. In fact, in many cases this is one of the first symptoms many patients note. Excessive thirst may tell the endocrinologist that your pituitary gland is not functioning correctly. It produces some of the most important bodily hormones including those for hunger and thirst.

If you find yourself experiencing excessive thirst, your pituitary gland may be functioning over-time to meet the high demand for blood glucose.

Preparing for Your Appointment

You can take simple steps to prepare for your first endocrinologist visit.

Pre-Appointment Measures: When making your appointment, ask if there are any restrictions in your diet or any other advance preparations you need to make before your appointment date. The doctor’s office will normally inform you of these restrictions, but it is always a good idea to ask.

Note Your Symptoms: Write down your current symptoms, including ones that you feel relate to your diabetic condition and ones that do not relate to the disease.

Note Personal Data and Information: Write down any unusual life changes or abnormal stressors in your life.

Note Medications: Write down all medications you currently take, even the ones that are not connected to your diabetic condition. This list should include prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, vitamins, and supplements.

Note Your Blood Sugar Levels: Write down your blood sugar levels for one week before your appoint. The doctor’s office may also ask you to keep a food journal to aid in determining spikes and dips in your blood sugar as related to your diet.

Note Questions: Write down any questions you have for the endocrinologist. It is always hard to remember these questions once you are in the doctor’s office and you do not want to forget anything important.

Questions From The Endocrinologist

Your endocrinologist will have many questions for you as he works to help you manage your diabetes. Here are a few of the questions you can expect at your first appointment:[3]

  • Are you able to control your blood sugar?
  • When did you first have trouble with blood sugar?
  • When were you diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Do you have constant spikes in blood sugar or are your symptoms infrequent?
  • How severe do you rate your symptoms on a scale of one to ten?
  • What have you noticed improves your symptoms?
  • What causes your symptoms to become worse?
  • What part of your disease do you find the hardest to manage?
  • What do you think would help you manage your condition?

Your endocrinologist will become an important member of your health care management team. You can expect to meet frequently with your doctor until a specific management plan is in place. Following that, you will continue to see your endocrinologist several times a year to monitor your progress.

References

[1]  The Endocrine System. (n.d.). Retrieved from Diabetes Forecast: http://forecast.diabetes.org/magazine/diabetes-101/endocrine-system

[2]  ibid

[3]  American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists medical guidelines for clinical practice for developing a diabetes mellitus comprehensive care plan. (n.d.). Retrieved from U.S Department of Health and Human Services: http://guidelines.gov/content.aspx?id=34038

[4]  This article was originally published July 12, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/10/2015.