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GLANDS-A patient's guide


This article gives an overview of some of the important glands in the body.


What is a gland?

A gland is an organised collection of cells that functions as a secretory or excretory organ. The human body has many different types of glands situated in various organs. Glands generally produce hormones or enzymes or other substances that perform essential functions.

 "Swollen glands"

When people talk about "swollen glands", they are often talking about lymph nodes. Lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels form a network in the body which plays an essential role in fighting infection. The lymph nodes contain white blood cells called lymphocytes which help destroy bacteria or other harmful cells. They can therefore become enlarged or swollen when they are fighting an infection because they must produce additional white blood cells.

Clusters of lymph nodes are found on either side of the neck, in the armpits and in the groin. Swelling of the neck lymph nodes is often associated with a throat or respiratory tract infection.

Swollen lymph nodes in the groin may be indicative of infection in the legs or genital area.

As lymphatic vessels drain tissue fluid (lymph) to lymph nodes, cancer can spread via the lymphatic system and swollen lymph nodes may sometimes be indicative of the spread of cancer.

If you notice swollen lymph glands , you should have them checked by a doctor.

Endocrine Glands

Glands form an important part of the endocrine system, the system in the body that involves hormones. Some of such endocrine glands are:

1) Pituitary gland: The pituitary is a small gland found near the base of the brain. It is an important regulator of many hormones, interacting with signals from the hypothalamus to help produce various hormones (FSH and LH), which drive the production of "sex hormones" oestrogen and testosterone.

It also produces a hormone called prolactin,important in the production of milk.

 2) Thyroid gland: The thyroid gland is situated in the neck, overlying part of the trachea. It is responsible for producing thyroid hormone, which has many functions in various tissues of the body.(see articles on hypothyroidism(under active) and hypothyroidism(overactive).

 3) Adrenal glands:

These glands, otherwise known as the suprarenal glands, small triangular glands situated on top of each kidney. They function interactively with the hypothalamus in the brain and the pituitary to produces many different hormones, including cortisol and adrenalin.

 4) Pancreas:

This important gland is both an endocrine (hormone-producing) and an exocrine (enzyme-secreting) gland. The most important hormone produced by the pancreas is insulin, essential for the body's regulation of sugar. The exocrine function of the pancreas concerns the production of important enzymes which help digestion.

Other important glands

1) Salivary glands: The salivary glands are located in and around the mouth and throat. They secret saliva into the mouth, which moistens the mouth, aids digestion and helps protect teeth from decay.

Small stones can occasionally form in the glands or their ducts and cause swelling and pain on eating. This obstruction of the flow of saliva can sometimes lead to infection and may need antibiotic treatment.

Mumps is a well-known viral infection of the parotid glands, the largest salivary glands.

 2) Prostate: The prostate is a small gland located just underneath the bladder in males. Secretions from the prostate form part of the seminal fluid (semen). Enlargement of the prostate is common in older men, and can lead to difficulties passing urine. In these cases, medical advice should be sought. The underlying cause may be benign (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia) or malignant and appropriate treatment can usually be instituted.


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