Adrenal Disorders

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Adrenal Disorders

Hormones produced in the adrenal glands include cortisol, adrenaline and aldosterone. Production that is too much or too little can result in adrenal disorders that affect the way your body functions. Adrenal crisis is a medical emergency that happens when there is a severe lack of cortisol.


There are many conditions that can lead to problems with the adrenal gland function. The adrenal glands are small and shaped liked triangles and are located just above each kidney. They are sometimes called suprarenal glands. Their job is to make hormones that you need to keep your metabolism, blood pressure, immune system and stress response in balance.

Adrenal disorders are the result of your glands making too much or not enough of certain hormones. Hormones produced by the adrenals include hydrocortisone (also called cortisol), adrenaline and aldosterone.

You can think of dominoes and how one movement by one domino sets off a chain reaction, making the next domino in line fall down. If something happens and the next domino doesn’t get the message, the effect is ruined.

What are common types of adrenal disorders?

There are different conditions related to your adrenal glands. Some of the most common include:

  • Addison’s disease, also called adrenal insufficiency. In this disorder, you don’t produce enough cortisol and/or aldosterone.
  • Cushing’s syndrome.In this disorder, your levels of cortisol are too high. This term can be applied when large doses of steroids are given to treat certain medical conditions.
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia.This term refers to genetic condition in which your adrenal glands are not able to make cortisol well. As a result ACTH is elevated. Depending on the defect higher levels of male hormone might be made. Adrenal gland suppression. This is a type of adrenal insufficiency that is related to outside sources of cortisol or related synthetic hormones such as prednisone or dexamethasone.
  • Hyperaldosteronism. If you have this condition, your body produces too much aldosterone which can lead to blood pressure elevation and potassium loss.
  • Virilization. This condition happens when your body produces too much of the male sex hormones and is only apparent in females or boys before puberty.

There are also conditions of the adrenal glands related to growths (tumors). These include:

  • Adrenal gland tumors. Tumors can disrupt hormone output, but are usually noncancerous.
  • Adrenocortical carcinoma. This rare condition refers to cancer forming in the adrenal gland’s outer layer.
  • Pheochromocytoma. If you have this condition, your glands make too much epinephrine and norepinephrine which can raise blood pressure or make your heart race.
  • Pituitary tumors. Abnormal growth on the pituitary gland can cause adrenal gland conditions by disrupting the amount of hormones made by the adrenal glands. ACTH producing tumors cause Cushing’s disease. If tumors are large enough, they may press on the normal pituitary cells and cause deficiency of ACTH and secondary adrenal insufficiency.

How common are adrenal disorders?

Adrenal disorders can happen to anyone. Within the individual conditions, some of them may happen more often to females than males, such as Cushing’s syndrome.