What are Adrenal Glands?
The two adrenal glands are
located on top of each of your kidneys. They are a part of the endocrine
system. While small in size, these glands are responsible for numerous
hormone-related functions within the body. Healthy adrenal glands keep many
bodily functions in check, as result disorders of the adrenal glands can have a
broad impact on the body. Suspected adrenal disorders should be addressed by a
doctor for evaluation and treatment.
Function of Adrenal Glands
The human body has one triangular-shaped
adrenal gland at the top of each kidney. Each gland contains an outer adrenal
cortex, which is responsible for producing hormones. Called steroid hormones,
helps control your blood pressure by managing the balance of potassium and
sodium. Cortisol works in
conjunction with adrenaline and noradrenaline. These are produced
within the inside portion of the adrenal glands, called the medulla. These hormones help to
regulate your reaction to stress. Cortisol also helps regulate your metabolism,
sugar levels, and blood pressure.
The adrenal glands are
controlled by the pituitary gland, another part of the endocrine system.
Located in the head, this is the main controller of endocrine glands. Abnormal
signals can disrupt the amount of hormones the pituitary gland tells the
adrenal glands to produce. This can cause too little or too many hormones.
Subsequent imbalances are related to medical disorders that affect your health.
Adrenal Gland Disorders
Adrenal gland disorders
- the pituitary
gland fails to control hormone production
(non-cancerous) tumors grow within the glands
- infections or
malignant (cancerous) tumors develop
mutations are inherited
Such disorders can be
classified as one of the following medical conditions:
- adrenal cancer
adrenal hyperplasia (CAH)
Addison’s disease is a rare autoimmune disease. It develops when the adrenal glands don’t
produce enough cortisol and aldosterone. This is a self-destructive disease, in
which your own immune system may attack adrenal tissues.
Adrenal cancer occurs when malignant tumors develop within the glands.
CAH is a
hormonal disorder that is inherited. Patients with CAH have difficulties
producing adrenal hormones. This disorder can affect the development of sex
organs in men.
Cushing’s syndrome is a rare adrenal disorder that has the opposite effects of Addison’s
disease. In Cushing’s syndrome, the body produces too much cortisol. Long-term
use of steroids can result in similar signs and symptoms.
Pheochromoctyoma is a condition in which tumors develop within the medulla of your
adrenal glands. These tumors are rarely cancerous.
Symptoms of Adrenal Gland Disorders
Symptoms of adrenal gland
disorders may include:
- low blood pressure
- increased salt
- low blood sugar
- dark skin
- muscle and joint
- weight gain or
Typically, symptoms of
adrenal gland disorders begin subtly. Over time, these symptoms worsen and
become more frequent. If you experience any of these health issues on a
recurrent basis, call your doctor.
Diagnosis for Disorders
Adrenal gland issues are
diagnosed through blood tests and imaging. A blood test can measure levels of:
- adrenal hormones
Blood tests are usually the
first tests conducted. If an adrenal disorder is suspected, imaging tests might
be ordered. Ultrasound, MRIs, and X-rays can provide images of the adrenal and
pituitary glands. This helps to detect possible tumors or deterioration of
Treatment for Adrenal Gland Disorders
The goal of treatment is to
help the adrenal glands function properly again. Doctors usually recommend
prescription hormone replacements in cases of low adrenal function, common in
Addison’s disease. Medications and radiation can be used when glands produce
too much hormone. During treatment, the blood needs to be tested periodically
to ensure the right hormone levels.
Surgery is another treatment
option for certain adrenal diseases. This procedure is typically used when:
- there are
- tumors are
present on either the adrenal or pituitary glands
The adrenal glands are
essential for everyday health. After diagnosis of adrenal disorder, ongoing
care is required. Since these glands are related to other organs in the
endocrine system, doctors usually scan for diseases of the pancreas, sex
organs, thyroid gland, and pituitary gland.