When the body’s adrenal glands don’t function normally, adrenal disorders can develop.
The adrenal glands—two small yet important glands located above the kidneys—play an important role in keeping the body’s chemistry balanced. They make hormones that regulate blood pressure, metabolism, the immune system and other important functions. These hormones include adrenaline, norepinephrine, aldosterone and cortisol, as well as sex hormones. But when the adrenal glands start producing too much or too little of these hormones, it can lead to an adrenal disorder that can cause problems all over the body.
The types of adrenal disorders that can affect normal hormone production include:
- Addison’s disease – This a rare condition in which the adrenal glands produce too little cortisol and sometimes not enough aldosterone.
- Cushing’s syndrome – This condition occurs when the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol for an extended period of time.
- Adrenocortical carcinoma – This is a rare condition in which malignant cancer cells form in the adrenal cortex (the outer layer of the adrenal glands).
- Pheochromocytoma – This condition occurs when tumors form in the adrenal medulla, the inner portion of the adrenal glands.
- Hyperaldosteronism – This condition occurs when the adrenal glands produce too much aldosterone.
- Hypoaldosteronism – This condition occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough aldosterone.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia – This is a genetic condition that hinders the adrenal glands’ ability to produce cortisol and sometimes aldosterone.
Causes of Adrenal Disorders
Anyone can develop an adrenal disorder. While it isn’t known exactly why adrenal disorders occur, they have been linked to several potential causes:
- Reactions to medication
- Disorders in other glands
Symptoms of Adrenal Disorders
Because adrenal disorders don’t all affect the same hormones, symptoms will vary from patient to patient. They can also appear similar to those of other illnesses, as they can include:
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle pain
- Low potassium levels
- Fatigue and confusion
Patients with Cushing’s syndrome will also notice upper body obesity (particularly in the face and upper back areas), purple marks on the skin near the abdomen and that they bruise more easily.
Diagnosing Adrenal Disorders
After getting an overview of a patient’s symptoms, a doctor will order tests of the saliva, blood and urine to check hormone levels. Imaging tests will also be performed if a tumor is believed to be the cause of an adrenal disorder.
Treating Adrenal Disorders
Depending on the specific condition, doctors may treat an adrenal disorder with hormone replacement therapy, medications or surgery. No matter what’s ailing a patient, Tampa General Hospital’s world-class endocrinologists utilize cutting-edge technology to treat adrenal and other types of endocrine disorders.