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What Is the Difference Between the Exocrine and Endocrine Glands?

Exocrine and endocrine glands are part of the endocrine system, which works to regulate the body's hormones.
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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2014
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The exocrine and endocrine glands, though similar in some ways, serve different purposes in the body. Exocrine glands secrete mucus or protein to the outside of the body, while endocrine glands secrete hormones into the blood. The various substances produced by the exocrine glands are often used to lubricate various systems, rid the body of harmful microorganisms, or adjust the temperature of the body. Endocrine secretions, on the other hand, are usually used in the body's complex communication system and can cause a variety of changes in body chemistry. Though exocrine and endocrine glands are both used in a variety of bodily processes, only the endocrine glands are able to communicate with distant systems in the body.

One of the main differences between the exocrine and endocrine glands is their location in the body. For the most part, exocrine glands are located near the surface of the skin or in body cavities that lead to the outside of the body, such as the eyes, nose, mouth, or sexual organs. The digestive system is also home to exocrine glands that can be found along its entire length. Endocrine glands, on the other hand, are often found deep within the body. The adrenal gland, located on top of the kidneys, and the pituitary gland, found in the brain, are two of the more well known glands of the endocrine system.

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Another difference between exocrine and endocrine glands is their purpose. Many of the exocrine glands produce mucus, a slimy substance made of glycoproteins and water, that is used to lubricate organs such as the eyes and the esophagus and to catch harmful substances trying to come into the body through the mucous membranes. Some of these glands secrete proteins that can assist with digestion. Exocrine glands near the surface of the skin release sweat, a substance that is used to cool the body down if the internal temperature becomes too high.

The endocrine glands secrete hormones that control many of the processes in the body. The pituitary gland is responsible for growth and sexual maturity as well as a number of other processes. When a person is put into a dangerous situation, secretions from the adrenal gland instruct the heart to beat faster and the blood pressure to rise in preparation for fighting or running from the danger. These, and the other glands in the endocrine system, release hormones into a person's bloodstream, sending messages that can be received throughout the body.

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umbra21
Post 3

It's kind of a weird thing that the body relies on hormones and other substances to signal certain things. It just seems like a kind of redundant system when you've got the nervous system there which can work so much faster.

But I guess it's because the hormones don't just tell the body parts they need to do something, they actually set off a chain reaction by interacting with them and changing them.

So, it's not like someone waving a flag to communicate, it's more like someone hitting a switch to turn a machine on.

indigomoth
Post 2

@Iluviaporos - Yeah, I always find it a bit strange and a little bit gross that basically the same kind of gland produces every secretion in the body, from spit to sweat to breast milk.

Although, actually, if I remember correctly the real difference between them is that endocrine glands put substances directly into the bloodstream, while exocrine glands use a duct to move the substances somewhere. Because there are exocrine glands in the liver and the pancreas and they can be a bit confusing if you think of them as producing something to go outside the body.

lluviaporos
Post 1

The way I always remember it in my science classes is that exocrine has ex- in it, just like exit, and exocrine glands secrete substances that go out of the body. That's not a perfect definition, since it's excrine glands that produce acid in the stomach and some other things that don't really exit the body, but if you think of endocrine glands as only really releasing substances into the blood stream, you get the idea.

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