adrenal diseases: adrenal gland conditions
What are adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands are also known as endocrine glands. The hormones cortisol, aldosterone, adrenaline, epinephrine, and norepinephrine – and a small fraction of the body’s sex hormones (estrogen and androgens), are produced by the adrenal glands. These hormones affect:
- Control of blood pressure
- Chemical levels in the blood
- Water use in the body
- Glucose usage
- The “fight or flight” reaction during times of stress
- Some of the sex hormones in both men and women
Causes and symptoms
The adrenal glands are part of a complex system and the range of symptoms is broad. The symptoms can be opposite extremes depending on the overproduction or underproduction of hormones and can range between:
- Weight gain or weight loss
- High or low blood sugar
- High or low blood pressure
- Fatigue, anxiety or headaches
Adrenal gland figures
Adrenal diseases or diseases of the adrenal gland are relatively rare. The most common reason that a patient may need to have surgery is due to excess hormones produced by benign (non-cancerous) tumours located within the adrenal glands.
Fortunately, malignant adrenal tumours are also rare. Most tumours are small and found by chance when a patient gets a CT scan to evaluate another problem.
Today, with minimally invasive surgery, removal of the adrenal gland (also known as “laparoscopic adrenalectomy”) can be performed through three or four 1-2 cm incisions. Patients may leave the hospital in one or two days and return to work more quickly than patients recovering from open surgery.
adrenal diseases: adrenal tumours
Usually, tumours cause an overproduction of one or more hormones. Most symptoms vary widely and most people don’t notice their symptoms. Some of the many symptoms that are noticed are:
- Cortisol – obesity in the upper body and back, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, fatigue (referred to as Cushing’s Syndrome).
- Aldosterone – salt and potassium imbalances, can cause significant hypertension. (referred to as Conn Syndrome). Low potassium can cause fatigue, numbness, increased urination, increased thirst, muscle cramps and muscle weakness.
- Adrenaline, norepinephrine, and epinephrine – very rare anxiety, weight loss, heart palpitations and excessive metabolic activity.
- Sex hormones – increased masculine characteristics, low sex drive, irregular menstrual cycles (women) or impotence (men) usually in combination with the symptoms of the overproduction of one or more of the other hormones.
Adrenal Tumours: Figures
There are two reasons to remove adrenal tumours.
- If the adrenal gland is producing too much of a hormone (overactive) one of the glands may need to be removed laparoscopically.
- Sometimes if an adrenal growth is over 4cms in size it may need to be removed due to a higher chance of malignancy with bigger tumour size.
The diagnosis of adrenal problems can be complicated. Usually, an endocrinologist is involved. Often there will need to be many blood tests and sometimes a urine collection to confirm the diagnosis.
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