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You have two adrenal glands. They’re located on top of each of your kidneys. They’re part of your endocrine system, a collection of glands that produce hormones.
While they’re small in size, your adrenal glands are responsible for numerous hormone-related functions in your body. As a result, disorders that affect your adrenal glands can have a broad impact on your health. If you suspect that you have an adrenal disorder, talk to your doctor.
You have one triangular-shaped adrenal gland at the top of each kidney. Each adrenal gland contains an outer adrenal cortex. It’s responsible for producing certain steroid hormones, including aldosterone and cortisol. Each gland also contains an inner adrenal medulla, which produces several other hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline.
Aldosterone helps control your blood pressure by managing the balance of potassium and sodium in your body. Cortisol works in conjunction with adrenaline and noradrenaline to help regulate your reaction to stress. Cortisol also helps regulate your metabolism, sugar levels, and blood pressure.
Your adrenal glands are controlled by your pituitary gland, another part of your endocrine system. Located in your head, your pituitary gland is the main controller of your endocrine glands. Abnormal signals can disrupt the amount of hormones that your pituitary gland tells your adrenal glands to produce. This can cause them to produce too little or too much hormone. Hormonal imbalances can result, causing a variety of symptoms and health problems.
Adrenal gland disorders can develop when:
These disorders include the following medical conditions:
Symptoms of adrenal gland disorders may include:
Symptoms of adrenal gland disorders tend to appear subtle at first. Over time, they typically worsen and become more frequent. If you experience any of these health issues on a recurrent basis, make an appointment with your doctor.
Your doctor will likely use blood and imaging tests to diagnose adrenal gland disorders. They will probably start by ordering blood tests. They can use these tests to measure your levels of:
If they suspect you have an adrenal gland disorder, they might order imaging tests next. They can use ultrasound, MRI, and X-ray imaging to create pictures of your adrenal and pituitary glands. This can help them detect possible tumors, deterioration of your endocrine tissues, and other signs of disease.
If you’re diagnosed with an adrenal gland disorder, your doctor will prescribe treatment to help your adrenal glands function properly again. They will likely prescribe hormone replacement therapy if you have low adrenal function, such as that caused by Addison’s disease. They may also recommend medications, as well as radiation treatment, if your glands are producing too much of a hormone.
Surgery is another treatment option for certain adrenal disorders. Your doctor may recommend surgery if:
During treatment, your doctor will need to test your blood periodically to check your hormone levels. Since your adrenal glands are related to other organs in your endocrine system, your doctor will likely check for signs of disease in your pancreas, sex organs, thyroid gland, and pituitary gland too.
Your adrenal glands, and the hormones they produce, are essential for everyday health. If you’re diagnosed with an adrenal gland disorder, it’s important to follow your doctor’s prescribed treatment plan. Your outlook will vary, depending on your diagnosis. Ask your doctor for more information about your specific diagnosis, treatment plan, and long-term outlook.
Written by: Kristeen Cherney
Medically reviewed on: Jul 26, 2016: Michael Charles, MD
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