Medical Terminology for Endocrine Tests, Procedures, and Pharmacology

By Beverley Henderson, Jennifer Lee Dorsey

There are a variety of ways to find out what’s going on with the endocrine system. So you had better get started learning the medical terminology necessary to understand what’s going on.

Endocrine radiology and diagnostic tests

That was quite a list of conditions and diseases, no? It would seem that the endocrine system has more potential conditions than Vegas has slot machines. Good thing physicians can use some relatively straightforward tests to evaluate the way the endocrine glands function.

Blood serum tests only require that you to give a few vials of blood at your local lab office. The professionals do the rest from there, running tests that measure the following levels (among many other things): calcium, cortisol, electrolytes, FSH, hGH, glucose, insulin, parathyroid hormones, T3, T4, testosterone, and TSH. All of these can be evaluated with blood serum tests.

Sometimes all the lab needs is a clean urine sample, so be prepared to pee in a cup. Urine testing can measure the following substances in the urine as indicators of endocrine disease: calcium, catecholamines, free cortisol, electrolytes, ketones, and glucose.

Glucose comes from the Greek gleukos, meaning “sweetness.”

Some other tests are a bit more complicated, such as the glucose tolerance test (GTT), which requires both a blood test and urine sample. This test measures the glucose levels in the blood and urine in specimens taken 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, and 3 hours after ingestion of 100 g of glucose.

The blood test portion measures levels of glucose in the blood, and the urine test measures for ketones in the urine, which is a symptom of uncontrolled diabetes. Other diagnostic tests for the endocrine system include the following:

  • Estrogen receptor test: Determines whether hormonal treatment would be useful in cancer treatment by measuring the response of the cancer to estrogen

  • Goetsch’s skin reaction: Test for hyperthyroidism involving reaction to epinephrine injection, named for Emil Goetsch (1883–1963)

  • Radioactive iodine uptake: Thyroid function evaluated by injecting radioactive iodine and then measuring how much is removed from the blood by the thyroid

Some clinical procedures associated with the endocrine system include:

  • CT scan: Also known as computerized tomography or CAT scan. Here transverse views of the pituitary gland and other endocrine organs can diagnose pathological conditions.

  • Thyroid scan: In a thyroid scan, a radioactive compound is given and localized in the thyroid gland. The gland is then visualized with the scanner to detect tumors or nodules.

  • Ultrasound: Pictures obtained from ultrasound waves can identify pancreatic, adrenal, and thyroid masses. This procedure is also used to diagnose conditions and diseases of many other systems of the body.

Endocrine surgeries and procedures

The majority of the surgeries and procedures associated with the endocrine system involve either incision into or removal of a gland. It is important to note in this system that once an endocrine gland is surgically removed, usually for tumor or enlargement, hormone replacement is necessary. Whatever hormone is secreted by the removed gland must be artificially replaced in the body by drug administration.

You should be able to discern what each of the following surgical terms means by looking at the root and the suffix, which either means to remove or to cut (as in an incision). Here’s the short list:

  • Adrenalectomy: Removal of an adrenal gland

  • Hypophysectomy: Removal of the pituitary gland

  • Pancreatectomy: Removal of a portion of the pancreas

  • Pancreatotomy: Incision into the pancreas

  • Parathyroidectomy: Surgical removal of parathyroid glands

  • Thyroidectomy: Surgical removal of the thyroid

The adrenals, pituitary, thyroid, and parathyroid glands, along with the pancreas, can now be removed laparoscopically. A robotic thyroidectomy, using the da Vinci robotic machine, uses an under-the-arm approach, eliminating the neck scar associated with thyroid removal.

Endocrine pharmacology

Now, let’s get to the good stuff — the drugs that can help treat conditions of the endocrine system.

One of the big daddy diseases of the endocrine system is diabetes, which affects millions of Americans. Insulin is administered via injection or subcutaneous pump to treat Type 1 diabetes. There are several types of insulin, including rapid acting, immediate acting, long acting, and even mixtures of more than one type. Oral antidiabetics (hypoglycemic drugs) are used to treat Type 2 diabetes. Insulin can also be administered in advanced cases.

Thyroid diseases can seriously affect the body’s growth, either in a meta or micro sort of way. Sources of drugs and supplements used to treat thyroid disease include desiccated beef or pork thyroid gland. Some are also made of synthetics. Antithyroid drugs are used to treat hyperthyroidism. They work by mimicking the thyroid hormone and inhibiting the production of T3 and T4.

Finally, there are drugs used to treat the pituitary gland, most notably growth hormone therapy and hormone replacement therapy.