are your adrenal glands?
You have two adrenal glands. They’re located
on top of each of your kidneys. They’re part of your endocrine system, a
collection of glands that produce hormones.
While they’re small in size, your adrenal glands
are responsible for numerous hormone-related functions in your body. As a
result, disorders that affect your adrenal glands can have a broad impact on your
health. If you suspect that you have an adrenal disorder, talk to your doctor.
What do your adrenal glands do?
You have one triangular-shaped adrenal gland
at the top of each kidney. Each adrenal gland contains an outer adrenal cortex.
It’s responsible for producing certain steroid hormones, including aldosterone
and cortisol. Each gland also contains an inner adrenal medulla, which produces
several other hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline.
Aldosterone helps control your blood pressure by managing the balance of
potassium and sodium in your body. Cortisol
works in conjunction with adrenaline and noradrenaline to help regulate your reaction to
stress. Cortisol also helps regulate your metabolism, sugar levels, and blood
Your adrenal glands are controlled by your
pituitary gland, another part of your endocrine system. Located in your head, your
pituitary gland is the main controller of your endocrine glands. Abnormal
signals can disrupt the amount of hormones that your pituitary gland tells your
adrenal glands to produce. This can cause them to produce too little or too much
hormone. Hormonal imbalances can result, causing a variety of symptoms and
Which disorders affect your adrenal glands?
Adrenal gland disorders can develop when:
- your pituitary gland fails to control your
hormone production properly
- benign, or noncancerous, tumors grow in
your adrenal glands
- malignant, or cancerous, tumors grow in
your adrenal glands
- infections develop in your adrenal
- you inherit certain genetic mutations
These disorders include the following medical
- Addison’s disease: This
rare autoimmune disease develops when your adrenal glands don’t produce enough
cortisol or aldosterone. This is a self-destructive disease, in which your own
immune system may attack your adrenal tissues.
- Cushing’s syndrome: This rare disorder occurs when your adrenal
glands produce too much cortisol. Long-term
steroid use can cause similar symptoms.
- Pheochromocytoma: In this
condition, tumors develop in the medulla of your adrenal glands. These tumors
are rarely cancerous.
- Adrenal cancer: This condition occurs when malignant tumors develop in your adrenal glands.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH): People who have this
inherited hormonal disorder have
difficulties producing adrenal hormones. This disorder can affect the
development of sex organs in men.
What are the symptoms
of adrenal gland disorders?
Symptoms of adrenal gland disorders may
- excessive fatigue
- increased salt cravings
- low blood sugar
- low blood pressure, also known as
- irregular periods
- dark patches on your skin
- muscle and joint pain
- weight gain or loss
Symptoms of adrenal gland disorders tend to
appear subtle at first. Over time, they typically worsen and become more
frequent. If you experience any of these health issues on a recurrent basis, make
an appointment with your doctor.
How are adrenal gland disorders diagnosed?
Your doctor will likely use blood and imaging
tests to diagnose adrenal gland disorders. They will probably start by ordering
blood tests. They can use these tests to measure your levels of:
- adrenal hormones
- pituitary hormones
If they suspect you have an adrenal gland disorder,
they might order imaging tests next. They can use ultrasound, MRI, and X-ray
imaging to create pictures of your adrenal and pituitary glands. This can help
them detect possible tumors, deterioration of your endocrine tissues, and other
signs of disease.
How are adrenal gland disorders treated?
If you’re diagnosed with an adrenal gland
disorder, your doctor will prescribe treatment to help your adrenal glands
function properly again. They will likely prescribe hormone replacement therapy
if you have low adrenal function, such as that caused by Addison’s disease. They
may also recommend medications, as well as radiation treatment, if your glands are
producing too much of a hormone.
Surgery is another treatment option for
certain adrenal disorders. Your doctor may recommend surgery if:
- you have malignant tumors that can be
- you have tumors on your adrenal or
- hormone suppressants fail
During treatment, your doctor will need to
test your blood periodically to check your hormone levels. Since your adrenal
glands are related to other organs in your endocrine system, your doctor will likely
check for signs of disease in your pancreas, sex organs, thyroid gland, and
pituitary gland too.
What is the outlook for adrenal gland disorders?
Your adrenal glands, and the hormones they
produce, are essential for everyday health. If you’re diagnosed with an adrenal
gland disorder, it’s important to follow your doctor’s prescribed treatment
plan. Your outlook will vary, depending on your diagnosis. Ask your doctor for
more information about your specific diagnosis, treatment plan, and long-term outlook.