Adrenal Gland Disorders
What are Adrenal Gland Disorders?
Adrenal gland disorders are when the adrenal gland produces too many or too few adrenal gland hormones. The main hormone produced by the adrenal gland is cortisol, which helps your body regulate stress, mood, and energy.
The adrenal gland is a triangle-shaped gland that sits on top of your kidney. There is one adrenal gland for each kidney.
Types of Adrenal Gland Disorders
Adrenal gland disorders include three main types: adrenal insufficiency, adrenal overproduction, and adrenal tumors not caused by excess adrenal hormones.
Common types of adrenal gland disorders:
- Adrenal insufficiency—The underproduction of adrenal gland hormones. Adrenal insufficiency is also called Addison’s Disease.
- Adrenal overproduction— The overproduction of adrenal gland hormones. These are usually caused by noncancerous tumors on the adrenal glands. Examples of this type of disorder include Cushing’s Disease and Conn’s Syndrome.
- Adrenal tumors—Adrenal gland disorders caused by tumors but without excess hormone production.
Adrenal cancer is a rare form of adrenal gland disorder. Cancerous cells embed themselves in the adrenal gland. Adrenal gland cancer is also called adrenocortical carcinoma.
There are several adrenal gland symptoms based on the specific type and cause of your adrenal gland disorder. Common adrenal gland disorder symptoms are fatigue, weight fluctuation, and general feelings of weakness.
Adrenal insufficiency symptoms:
- Decreased appetite
- Salt craving
- Stomach pain
- Joint pain
- Skin darkening
- Muscle pain
- Feeling weak
- Loss of weight
Adrenal overproduction symptoms:
- Thin skin
- Weak bones
- Weak muscles
- High blood pressure
- Rounded face
- Frequent thirst
- Frequent urination
- Weight gain
- Bruise easily
- High blood sugar
Another unique symptom is that your wounds heal slowly. Women may experience reduced or nonexistent menstrual periods, and facial hair growth.
Adrenal gland tumor symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Feeling lightheaded
- Loss of weight
- Fluttering heartbeat
Adrenal gland disorders are caused by a number of different factors. Adrenal gland disorders can occur due to autoimmune problems, tumors in the adrenal glands, or inflammation that makes you produce too much cortisol.
Common growth hormone disorder causes:
- Tumors — Growths on the adrenal or pituitary glands can trigger overproduction of cortisol.
- Adrenal suppression — Steroid use slows natural cortisol hormone production. Certain other medications can also affect the adrenal glands.
- Autoimmune diseases — Autoimmune diseases are caused by an immune system problem where antibodies attack your own tissues because they mistake them for threats to your body.
- Genetic Mutation — Alterations to a DNA sequence.
- Infections — Infections can damage or inflame the adrenal glands and lead to an underactive or overactive production of hormones.
- Inherited condition — In some cases, adrenal disorders can run in families.
Adrenal gland disorder diagnosis depends on the type of condition and your symptoms. Generally, your doctor will start with a routine physical exam and inquiring about your symptoms and medical history.
Common adrenal gland disorder tests include:
- Blood tests — Blood tests measure the hormone levels in your body.
- Imaging scan — An X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computerized tomography (CT) scan of your adrenal glands can help doctors spot abnormalities. This can help identify potential underlying conditions causing disorder.
- 24-Hour urination test — Your doctor may ask you to collect a urine sample over a 24-hour period.
- Genetic testing — This testing involves analyzing a blood or tissue sample.
- Stimulation tests — These tests measure adrenal gland functioning by stimulating cortisol production.
Treatment for adrenal gland disorders varies depending on what type of disorder is diagnosed.
Typical treatments include:
- Medication — Certain medication can reduce cortisol production, stimulate cortisol production, and help manage symptoms. Medication might also help treat underlying causes of the condition.
- Hormone replacement — When a person's hormones are replaced with artificial versions of those same hormones.
- Surgery — Doctors will surgically remove tumors or other growths.
- Radiation Therapy — A treatment that uses radiation to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth.
- Rest and relaxation — Your doctor may ask you to limit physical activities for a specified period of time.
If you or a loved one experiences any of the symptoms of adrenal gland disorders, contact an endocrinologist at Baptist Health.
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