Sex Gland Endocrine Disorders
The sex gland hormones have much to do with the physical and mental changes that distinguish males from females as children grow up. The sex glands are a part of the endocrine gland system. Disorders of these glands are, therefore, so involved with disorders of other glands of internal secretion that it is difficult to classify them as separate diseases with definite remedies for each.
The fundamental sex glands are the testes and the ovaries. The function of the internal secretion of the testes has to do chiefly with the development of male secondary sex characteristics, a work it shares with the secretions of the adrenals and the pituitary. The ovaries' internal secretions help to control menstruation, the female procreative functions in general, and sympathetic nervous system activities associated with puberty, menstruation, and change of life. Various disturbances of menstruation may be caused by changes in the amount of female sex hormones produced by the ovaries.
The sex organs may be absent or atrophied in either male or female. Their vitality may be destroyed by disease or by too much exposure to radiation of any kind. If either condition dates from before puberty, it greatly influences the disposition, sex impulses, and body characteristics that distinguish men from women. In the case of either sex, however, while typical secondary sex characteristics are lacking, intelligence is normal, the bones of the limbs tend to grow somewhat longer than otherwise, and the pituitary gland becomes abnormally large. These conditions cannot be cured, but they are not fatal and do not prevent their victims from living useful lives.
Sexual development too early in life may be caused by tumors of the sex glands or adrenals. They may cause the signs and symptoms of puberty at an early age. Such tumors have in some cases been removed with great benefit, but successful surgery is not always possible.
A great mass of popular opinion, much of it little better than superstition, centers around secondary sex characteristics. The mannish woman and the feminine man have to labor under greater handicaps than they should. Actually, it is hard to say exactly what is normal in either case; and there is some masculinity in most women, and some femininity in most men. Those whose build or appearance does not measure up to their masculine or feminine ideal should not worry unduly about it.
Surgical removal of the ovaries late in a woman's life, or even before the natural menopause, may have little influence on her temperament or sex impulses. Menstruation ceases, of course; and the disturbances of the "change," such as hot flashes and nervousness, may be comparable to those occurring in natural change of life.
Some of the symptoms usually attributed to the menopause, rather than being caused by disturbances of the endocrine organs, are of psychological origin. We refer to feelings of being left out, to attitudes of personal worthlessness when the children leave home, and to fears that one's feminine appeal has declined. Such symptoms may occur in a woman who feels uncertain regarding her status in the family when she reaches the late forties and early fifties, whether or not her ovaries have been removed by surgery.
Symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, nervousness, and rheumatic pains can often be relieved by proper use of hormones. This applies in cases in which the menopause is brought on prematurely by surgical removal of the ovaries and in cases in which nature follows its usual course at the age of forty-five to fifty.
Teenage girls and young women who suffer from painful menstruation can often be benefited by administration of hormone preparations.
The ovarian functions are intimately associated with those of the thyroid and the pituitary. Since the ovarian function is greatly altered at the change of life, pituitary and thyroid function must be adjusted in order to restore the balance. It is this intimate association that makes an apparent ovarian disorder so complex. A woman with symptoms which seem to indicate trouble with her ovaries should consult a physician, preferably a gynecologist, and this physician may wish to consult with an endocrinologist.