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Disorders of the Adrenal Glands

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Normal functioning of the adrenal gland is important for healthy living. The article below briefs in detail about the disorders of the adrenal glands.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Shaikh Sadaf

Published At September 8, 2023
Reviewed AtSeptember 15, 2023

Introduction

The adrenal gland is also known as the suprarenal gland. It is a small, triangular-shaped gland that is located on the top of both kidneys. These glands produce essential hormones that help in regulating metabolism, blood pressure, the immune system, response to stress, and other important functions. Adrenal glands are usually composed of two parts, which are the medulla and cortex, which are responsible for producing hormones. When these glands fail to produce enough hormones, it leads to many conditions and disorders that may affect the human body.

What Are Adrenal Disorders?

Many conditions can lead to issues with adrenal gland function. Adrenal disorders are the result of glands making too much or not enough of certain hormones. Hormones that are produced by adrenal glands include adrenaline, hydrocortisone, and aldosterone. The function of the adrenal glands impacts the body very hard as it creates a chain reaction. If something goes wrong, it may affect the entire chain. A condition where the body makes too much or too little of one or more hormones leads to disorders. The symptoms depend on the type of issues a person has and how much it affects the hormone levels in the body.

What Are the Types of Adrenal Gland Disorders?

The common types of conditions that are related to adrenal glands are:

  • Addison’s Disease: It is also called adrenal insufficiency. In this condition, the glands do not produce enough cortisol and aldosterone.

  • Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: This is a genetic condition in which the adrenal glands fail to produce cortisol well. ACTH is elevated. Depending on the defect, higher levels of male hormones can be made.

  • Cushing’s Syndrome: In this disorder, the cortisol levels are too high; this condition can be applied when large doses of steroids are given to treat certain medical conditions.

  • Adrenal Gland Suppression: Adrenal insufficiency that is related to outside sources of cortisol and related to synthetic hormones like dexamethasone and prednisone.

  • Hyperaldosteronism: The condition where the body produces too much aldosterone, and which can lead to blood pressure elevation and high potassium loss.

  • Virilization: This happens when the body produces much of the male sex hormones and is only apparent in females or boys before puberty.

Other conditions that affect the adrenal glands related to growth include:

  • Adrenocortical Carcinoma: It is a rare condition that refers to cancer forming on the outer layer of the adrenal gland.

  • Adrenal Gland Tumors: Tumors can disrupt hormone output and are usually non-cancerous.

  • Pheochromocytoma: A condition in which the glands make too much epinephrine and norepinephrine can raise the blood pressure to make the heart race.

  • Pituitary Tumors: Abnormal growth on the pituitary gland can cause adrenal gland conditions that disrupt the amount of hormone made by the adrenal glands. ACTH-producing tumors cause Cushing’s disease. Tumors that are large enough may press on the normal pituitary cells and cause deficiency of ACTH and secondary adrenal insufficiency.

What Are the Symptoms of Adrenal Insufficiency?

Adrenal disorders are present in a number of ways. Symptoms can vary depending on the individual. These symptoms of preexisting conditions often include:

  • Muscle weakness.

  • Weight loss.

  • Darkening of skin.

  • Fatigue.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Craving salty foods.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Mouth sores.

These symptoms can vary and are specific dominant signs that can state something is wrong with the adrenal glands. These include:

  • Weight Loss and Abdominal Pain: Hormones that are produced in the adrenal glands control appetite and help in processing food. They are overactive and underproduced; this can lead to digestive issues and hinder the body from gleaning the nutrients needed from food sources.

  • High Blood Pressure: This symptom can be a signal of a wide range of ailments. Particularly to adrenal disorders when paired with headaches, low sodium levels, headaches, and facial flushing. Overproduction of hormones can throw particularly balanced salt and water into the bloodstream, leading to high blood pressure.

  • Weakness and Fatigue: The main symptom of Addison's disease, in particular, may signal an underlying issue that needs immediate care and attention. Lack of hormones can lead to drops in blood pressure, general fatigue, and muscle weakening.

What Are the Risk Factors for Adrenal Disorders?

The causes of adrenal disorder, in many cases, are not known. Some types of adrenal disorders are linked to genetics, and others may result in more frequency related to certain types of drugs, like steroids. Steroids are the main line of treatment for many diseases, and one should always be aware of their ample side effects.

How Is an Adrenal Disorder Diagnosed and Treated?

The diagnosis of adrenal gland disorders may vary on the basis. The initial process of diagnosis usually begins by conversing with the primary care and the symptoms one is experiencing. Particular symptoms may better assist healthcare providers in monitoring, diagnosing, and treating adrenal disorders.

Tests like complete blood tests and imaging tests like MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) scan can help in detecting potential tumors, abdominal swelling, and other adrenal disorders.

The treatment of adrenal disorders manifests either in glands or on the pituitary gland and involves some sort of surgery. This can be a minimally invasive surgery that depends on the severity and side of the tumors. The pros of the treatment can include the total removal of tumors and no requirement for more surgeries. The risk factors involve prolonged recovery time and infection. Hormone suppression and replacement therapy provide relief for those who suffer from Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease. If in this condition where the adrenal gland disorders remain untreated, they can spread to the internal organs and lead to life-threatening conditions.

Conclusion

The adrenal gland is one of the essential organs of the human body. This plays a key role in keeping the body healthy. Disorders of these glands affect many body functions. Provider suggests getting an opinion from the endocrinologist to monitor the condition regularly. The treatment plan may change when the situation changes, as a high-stress time during surgery and illness. Most adrenal gland disorders are manageable and have become an active part of healthcare professionals.

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Dr. Shaikh Sadaf
Dr. Shaikh Sadaf

Endocrinology

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adrenal glandaddison's disease
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