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An adrenalectomy is an organ-removal surgery that removes one or both of your adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two small organs, one located above each kidney. They secrete hormones that help regulate many bodily functions, including your immune system, metabolism, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure control.
Benign or cancerous tumors on your adrenal glands are the most common reason for an adrenalectomy. Surgeons may remove one or both of your adrenal glands if they contain a tumor. If you only need one adrenal gland removed, the remaining adrenal gland can take over and provide full functioning.
If one or both of your adrenal glands produces too much of a hormone, you may need an adrenalectomy. Excess hormone production is a symptom of a tumor in your adrenal glands.
An adrenalectomy is a surgical procedure that takes place in a hospital or medical setting. You will receive general anesthesia for your procedure. The anesthesia puts you to sleep so that you don’t feel pain during surgery.
Anesthesia can make you feel nauseated. Your doctor will instruct you to not eat or drink after midnight the day before your surgery. That way, if you become nauseated from the anesthesia, there will be nothing in your stomach to vomit.
A surgeon can perform an adrenalectomy as either an open surgery or a laparoscopic procedure. Laparoscopic surgery can reduce your risk of infection and shorten your recovery time. Ask your doctor which type of adrenalectomy you will have.
If your adrenal glands or the tumors on them are especially large, your surgeon may opt for an open procedure. In an open adrenalectomy, the surgeon makes large incisions under your ribcage or on the sides of your body. These incisions allow the surgeon access to the glands and the blood vessels attached to them.
The surgeon will disconnect each adrenal gland from the surrounding blood vessels and tissue. The surgeon will then tie off the blood vessels to prevent excessive bleeding, and take the adrenal glands out of your body. Your surgeon will rinse your abdominal cavity with a sterile saline solution before closing the wounds. Then they will close the incisions with stitches.
Laparoscopic adrenalectomies are more common than open procedures. They also have a high success rate. During a laparoscopic adrenalectomy, a surgeon makes small incisions in your abdomen and near your belly button to access the adrenal glands. One significant benefit to the laparoscopic method is a faster recovery time.
The surgeon inserts a tiny camera into one of the incisions. This lets your surgeon see your abdominal cavity on a monitor. They will fill your abdominal cavity with gas to help the doctor see the adrenal glands clearly.
Using instruments inserted into the incisions, the surgeon will disconnect the adrenal glands and cauterize the blood vessels. They’ll remove the adrenal glands from your body through a plastic bag that the doctor inserts into your abdominal cavity.
After your adrenalectomy procedure, you’ll rest in a recovery room where staff can monitor your vital signs. Once you wake up from the anesthesia, you’ll rest in a regular hospital room.
If you have an open adrenalectomy, you’ll probably stay in the hospital for four or five days. You can usually go home two to three days after a laparoscopic adrenalectomy. You’ll most likely feel some pain at the incision sites. If you have a laparoscopic adrenalectomy, you might also feel some cramping or bloating caused by the gas in your abdomen.
Your surgeon will schedule a follow-up appointment with you two weeks after the surgery. Discuss any residual pain or other concerns you may have at this meeting. You may need some follow-up care if you encountered any complications from your surgery. However, most patients recover well and don’t experience complications. Generally, adrenalectomy patients can return to work or school as soon as they feel ready. However, doctors will tell you to avoid heavy lifting for six to eight weeks after surgery.
If the adrenalectomy removed both of your adrenal glands, you’ll also receive supplemental drug therapy to replace the hormones that your adrenal glands normally produce.
Written by: Erica Roth
Medically reviewed on: Jan 19, 2016: Steve Kim, MD
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