Last updated date: 29-Mar-2023
Originally Written in English
A human body is made up of two adrenal glands found at the top part of every kidney. These adrenal glands form part of the endocrine system in the body, a group of vital glands that generates hormones.
The adrenal glands are generally small in size and are in charge of various hormone-related functions within the body. Due to this, any disorder or disease that affects the adrenal glands can negatively impact overall health. Some of these adrenal disorders can be chronic and life-threatening; hence early diagnosis and treatment are crucial.
Role of Adrenal Glands
On top of every kidney, there is a single triangle-shaped adrenal gland containing an outer adrenal cortex. These two adrenal glands play a significant role in manufacturing steroid hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone. Furthermore, each of these glands comprises the inner adrenal medulla. This produces other vital hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline.
The role of aldosterone involves controlling the blood pressure in the body by regulating the balance between sodium and potassium. On the other hand, cortisol functions alongside adrenaline and noradrenaline to control and regulate stress reactions. It can also help manage blood pressure, metabolism, and levels of sugar.
Normally, the pituitary gland (a part of the endocrine system) controls the adrenal glands. The pituitary gland is basically the major controller and regulator of the endocrine glands and is situated in the head. Sometimes, irregular signals can interfere with the number of hormones that the pituitary gland informs the adrenal gland to manufacture. This can result in the underproduction or manufacture of excess hormones. When this happens, hormonal imbalance can occur, causing different health issues such as adrenal disorders and various related symptoms.
Types of Adrenal Disorders
Adrenal gland disorders can develop due to various factors, including;
- Failure of the pituitary glands to effectively control the production of hormones
- Cancerous or malignant tumors that develop in the adrenal glands
- Noncancerous or benign tumors that develop in the adrenal glands
- Infections that occur in the adrenal glands
- Gene mutation inheritable from parents
The common types of adrenal disorders include;
Addison’s disease: This condition is also referred to as adrenal insufficiency. It’s a rare autoimmune condition that occurs when the adrenal glands fail to release sufficient cortisol and sometimes aldosterone. Addison’s disease is also a destruction condition, meaning the immune system can sometimes attack the adrenal tissues.
Cushing’s disease: This develops due to prolonged exposure to extreme levels of some chemicals known as adrenal glucocorticoids. Usually, the adrenal glands situated at the top of both kidneys are responsible for creating cortisol, which helps respond to stress. However, if there is excessive cortisol production, it could result in Cushing’s disease and associated symptoms.
Pheochromocytoma: These are tumors that occur in the adrenal medulla. The adrenal medulla is the inner part of the adrenal gland that influences excess production of catecholamines hormones, including epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones trigger high blood pressure and could lead to stroke or heart attack in the long run.
Adrenal incidentaloma: This condition develops due to tumors or masses that are found on the adrenal glands. These masses produce more hormones, interfering with normal body functions. A surgical operation is required to take out the masses or tumors.
Adrenal cancer: This is a severe condition that begins when malignant tumors grow within the adrenal glands.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia: This is a genetic or inheritable hormonal condition that causes difficulties in the production of adrenal hormones.
Conn’s syndrome: This occurs due to excess production of aldosterone hormones or mineralocorticoids in the adrenal glands.
Causes Adrenal Disorders
The common causes of adrenal gland diseases include;
- Tumors such as pheochromocytomas are rare tumors that cause the adrenal glands to produce excess hormones.
- Genetic conditions that an individual is born with
- Autoimmune response
- Using high dose steroids
- Problems related to endocrine glands and hormones production
Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Disorders
Adrenal disorders present themselves in various ways. Also, the signs and symptoms tend to vary from one person to another, depending on the existing condition. Some of the common symptoms associated with adrenal symptoms include;
- Abdominal pain
- Cravings for salty meals
- Darkening of the skin
- Fatigue or unexplainable tiredness
- Mouth sores
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
Risk Factors of Adrenal Disorders
The risk factors ofadrenal gland diseases usually vary. However, the factors that increase the chances of developing adrenal disorders include;
- Autoimmune disorders such as grave’s disease, HIV, or lupus
- Initial infections
- Chronic health conditions such as tuberculosis
- Using certain antifungal drugs
- A surgical procedure performed to remove some parts of the adrenal glands
Diagnosing Adrenal Disorders
Accurate diagnosis of adrenal disorders translates to appropriate treatment and successful recovery. To ensure this, doctors often perform several tests and procedures to detect any adrenal gland disorder. They can include;
Blood test: The first essential test involves the blood test. They will ask for blood samples to measure or check the levels of glucose, sodium, potassium, pituitary hormones, and adrenal hormones. Doctors can also use a blood test to measure the antibodies linked to Addison’s autoimmune condition.
ACTH stimulating test: Doctors can use ACTH to signal the adrenal gland to manufacture cortisol. It’s a test to check the level of cortisol in the bloodstream before and after injecting ACTH.
Insulin-induced hypoglycemia test: The doctor can opt for this test if they suspect adrenal insufficiency causes pituitary health conditions. It’s a test to measure blood sugar or glucose and cortisol levels after injecting insulin into the body. The normal results usually show a decrease in the sugar level and an increase in the cortisol level. However, if there is adrenal insufficiency, then the results will be the opposite.
Imaging tests: To further confirm the adrenal gland disorders, the doctor can opt for imaging tests. These tests also help diagnose adrenal tumors or cancer, deteriorating endocrine tissue, and various signs associated with the disease. Examples of imaging tests include;
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
This imaging test uses powerful magnetic fields and radio waves to capture and generate images of the body. Doctors use MRI to diagnose various adrenal gland disorders, including associated tumors. If there is tumor growth, this technique will show the extent of the issue, tumor location, and the affected tissues.
Ultrasound imaging procedure uses sound waves and echoes to create images of the adrenal glands and other surrounding body parts. The method uses a small tool known as the transducer. It helps transmits signal waves and collects the echoes immediately they bounce off from the target organs. Computer technology will then be used to convert the echoes into detailed pictures displayed on the screen.
X-ray technique uses radiation energy to produce images of the structures of the adrenal glands and the surrounding organs. This allows the doctors to find out if the type and extend to the disorder. If it’s cancer, then an x-ray enables them to check if it has spread to other parts of the body.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
This imaging method combines various x-ray images to generate detailed cross-sectional pictures of the adrenal glands. Doctors can sometimes opt for this test if they suspect an adrenal tumor or signs of cancer.
Treating Adrenal Disorders
Once the doctor diagnoses the adrenal disease, they will develop a suitable treatment plan based on the results. The treatment aims to enable the adrenal glands to function normally again. In most cases, they can prescribe hormone replacement therapy. This is especially if you are suffering from poor adrenal function triggered by Addison’s disease.
Alternatively, they can recommend certain medications and radiation therapy treatment. This is to help prevent the adrenal gland from producing excess hormones.
A surgical procedure is another effective treatment alternative. Doctors can recommend surgery to treat certain adrenal gland diseases. It’s also a good treatment option to help patients with issues such as;
- Malignant tumors that should be removed to prevent more complications
- Tumor growths or signs of cancer in the pituitary glands or adrenal glands
- Hormonal suppressants fail to work effectively
As you undergo treatment, the doctor will test your blood to measure the level of hormones frequently. The adrenal glands are usually linked to various organs in the endocrine system. Therefore, the doctor can evaluate the signs of the disorders in the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, pancreas, and sex organs.
The adrenal glands produce vital hormones that are equally important to a person’s overall health. Therefore, having an adrenal disorder can negatively affect your wellbeing as well as the essential body functions. Early diagnosing and treatment are thus important to prevent more complications.
CloudHospital is dedicated to helping patients with all types of adrenal gland disorders. It also provides effective treatment alternatives, including medication, therapies, and surgical operations. This, however, depends on the health condition, age, and the affected tissues or organs.