The Endocrine System
Kim Maryniak, PhD, RNC-NIC, NEA-BC
Knowledge of the major endocrine glands and the hormones they secrete, as well as the symptomology associated with over- and under-production of these hormones will give the healthcare professional the ability to identify endocrine disorders.
Glands that compose the endocrine system include the adrenals, ovaries/testes, pancreas, thyroid, parathyroid, and kidneys. These glands are influenced by the pituitary gland in the brain. When abnormalities occur, illness or death can result. Treatment usually requires managing a deviant hormone by either reducing or increasing its production or secretion from its associated endocrine gland (Jarvis, 2016; Wilson & Giddens, 2017).
When conducting a focused endocrine assessment on your patient, begin with a thorough history of their chief complaints. Endocrine disorders and diseases usually manifest according to which endocrine hormone is being overproduced and secreted, or under-produced, at any given age (Jarvis, 2016). The problem-focused endocrine assessment is necessary after a comprehensive assessment indicates a potential endocrine abnormality, or when a new symptom emerges or the patient develops any distress. The advantage of this assessment is that it allows you to ask about symptoms and move quickly to conducting a focused physical exam (Jarvis, 2016; Wilson & Giddens, 2017).
Signs and symptoms of endocrine disease may include fatigue or lethargy, weight gain or loss, dizziness, feelings of depression, irritability, or anxiety, pain, decreased libido, nausea and vomiting, changes in urinary or bowel habits, changes in vision, intolerance to heat or cold, or change in appetite. Physical exam may reveal heart murmur, cardiac irregularities, abnormal breath or bowel sounds, changes in skin color or turgor, bruises or rashes, or enlarged pancreas.
Assessment of the endocrine system is a vital component of a focused physical assessment. For more information about the endocrine system, refer to the RN.com course Focused Endocrine Assessment.
Jarvis, C. (2016). Physical examination and health assessment (7th ed.). St. Louis, MO: W.B. Saunders.
Wilson, S. & Giddens, J. (2017). Health assessment for nursing practice (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.
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