Also called: Adrenal Diseases
What are adrenal glands?
Your adrenal glands are two small organs that sit on top of each kidney. The adrenal glands make different types of hormones you need to stay alive and healthy. Hormones are chemicals that travel in your bloodstream and control how different parts of your body work.
The adrenal glands make the hormones cortisol, aldosterone, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. They also make hormones that your body uses to make sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone). All of these hormones do many important jobs, including:
- Turning food into energy and managing blood sugar levels
- Balancing salt and water
- Keeping blood pressure normal
- Responding to illness and stress (your "fight or flight" response)
- Timing when and how fast a child develops sexually
- Supporting pregnancy
What are adrenal gland disorders?
When you have an adrenal gland disorder, your body makes too much or too little of one or more hormones. The symptoms depend on the type of problem you have and how much it affects the hormone levels in your body.
There are many types of adrenal gland disorders, including:
- Addison's Disease - a condition in which the adrenal glands don't make enough cortisol
- Cushing's Syndrome - a condition caused by too much cortisol in the body, often from taking steroid medicines for a long time
- Aldosterone-producing adenoma - a benign tumor (not cancer) that makes too much aldosterone and may cause serious high blood pressure
- Hereditary paraganglioma-pheochromocytoma - an inherited condition causing different types of tumors that make adrenaline and other hormones. Some tumors may become cancerous.
- Adrenal gland cancer - cancerous tumors, including adrenocortical carcinoma and neuroblastoma
- Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) - a group of inherited disorders in which the adrenal glands don't make enough cortisol. The most common type is 21-hydroxylase deficiency (also called CAH1). In the United States, newborn babies get a blood test to see if they have CAH. People born with CAH may not have symptoms until childhood or later in life.
What causes adrenal gland disorders?
The cause of adrenal gland disorders depends on the type of disorder you have. Causes can include:
- Medicines such as steroids
- A problem in another gland, such as the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland releases hormones that affect how the adrenal glands work.
- Changes in genes (mutations). These changes can cause the adrenal glands to make too much or too little of one or more hormones.
In many cases the cause of the problem isn't clear.
How are adrenal gland disorders diagnosed?
Health care providers use different tests to check for adrenal disorders depending on your symptoms and health history. For example, you may have tests of your blood, urine (pee), or saliva (spit). These tests check your hormone levels. Your provider may order x-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans to look for tumors.
What are the treatments for adrenal gland disorders?
Different types of adrenal gland disorders have different treatments. They include medicines and surgery. Radiation therapy is sometimes a treatment for tumors. There are treatments to cure certain adrenal gland disorders. For other disorders, treatments can manage your symptoms.
NIH: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.
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