The endocrine system
is the system of glands
, each of which secretes
different types of hormones
directly into the bloodstream (some of which are transported along nerve tracts
) to maintain homeostasis
. The endocrine system is in contrast to the exocrine system
, which secretes its chemicals using ducts
. The word endocrine derives from the Greek words “endo” meaning inside, within, and “crinis” for secrete. The endocrine system is an information signal system like the nervous system, yet its effects and mechanism are classifiably different. The endocrine system’s effects are slow to initiate, and prolonged in their response, lasting from a few hours up to weeks. The nervous system sends information very quickly, and responses are generally short lived. Hormones are substances (chemical mediators) released from endocrine tissue into the bloodstream where they travel to target tissue and generate a response. Hormones regulate various human functions, including metabolism
, growth and development
, and mood
. The field of study dealing with the endocrine system and its disorders is endocrinology
, a branch of internal medicine
Features of endocrine glands are, in general, their ductless nature, their vascularity, and usually the presence of intracellular vacuoles or granules storing their hormones. In contrast, exocrine glands, such as salivary glands, sweat glands, and glands within the gastrointestinal tract, tend to be much less vascular and have ducts or a hollow lumen.
In addition to the specialised endocrine organs mentioned above, many other organs that are part of other body systems, such as the kidney, liver, heart and gonads, have secondary endocrine functions. For example the kidney secretes endocrine hormones such as erythropoietin and renin.
The endocrine system is made of a series of glands that produce chemicals called hormones. A number of glands that signal each other in sequence are usually referred to as an axis, for example, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
As opposed to endocrine factors that travel considerably longer distances via the circulatory system, other signaling molecules, such as paracrine factors involved in paracrine signalling diffuse over a relatively short distance.