Adrenal Gland

What is the adrenal gland?

Everyone has a pair of adrenal gland and each rests on each of the kidneys. They form part of the endocrine system. The endocrine system includes all the glands that are involved in hormone production or secretion.

They’re small-sized glands that are responsible for many hormone-related body functions. Anything that therefore negatively affects the adrenal glands will negatively affect their overall body functions.

What does your adrenal gland do?

The adrenal glands are triangular-shaped glands with each been distinguished into two parts- an inner medulla and an outer cortex. Each of this parts have their distinct functions.

Aldosterone, cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline are some of the hormones the adrenalglands produce.

Aldosterone oversees to blood pressure control in the body. It does this by monitoring andmanaging sodium and potassium levels in the body.

Cortisol, on the other hand, loves to partner with adrenaline and noradrenaline. Together, these three hormones take care of regulating the body under stressful conditions.

Cortisol is also involved in the regulation of metabolic body processes, blood sugar, and, blood pressure.

The adrenal gland cannot produce its hormones on their own. They need to receive instructions from the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is also a part of the endocrine system. The pituitary gland, which resides in the brain, is like the general commander overseeing the release of hormones from all endocrine tissues in the different endocrine glands. You can call it a master endocrine gland upon which other endocrine glands depend on to function. And these other endocrine glands also have to communicate to the pituitary in order to control their own secretions, too. You can, therefore, come to an end point of reasoning that the pituitary and other endocrine glands are mutual in their operations. Anything that disrupts their mutual communication will have an untold effect on the function of them both. That is when you will have conditions characterized by too much-circulating concentration of a hormone, too little circulating concentration or the complete absence of a hormone. Those are the consequences of imbalances in hormones! Because there are imbalances, there will be symptoms that are associated with them.

Adrenal glands
Photo Credit: National Cancer Institute


Disorders that can affect your adrenal gland

Disorders of the adrenal gland will surface when:

  • the pituitary gland has lost control over hormone production in other endocrine glands
  • there is a form of benign tumor in the adrenal gland i.e. a noncancerous tumor
  • there is a form of malignant tumor in the adrenal gland i.e. a cancerous tumor
  • there are traces of infections in the adrenal gland
  • there is an inherent genetic mutation

Each of the above instances is linked to specific adrenal disorders. They are:

  • Addison’s disease: It is an autoimmune disease that is developed when the adrenal glands no longer produce cortisol or aldosterone in sufficient amounts.

An autoimmune disease is one which is defined by the body destroying its own cells. The body’s immune system fights the cells of the adrenal gland.

  • Cushing’s syndrome: In Cushing syndrome, the adrenal gland is busy producing cortisol in excess. Another way this syndrome can be developed is when steroids are used for a very long time consistently.
  • Pheochromocytoma: Pheochromocytoma is associated with tumor formation in the adrenal medulla. They are not dangerous in nature.
  • Adrenal cancer: It is a state where cancerous tumors form in the adrenal gland tissues. Cancerous tumors are also termed malignant tumors.
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH): This adrenal condition is an outcome of an inability of the adrenal gland to produce its hormones. It is an inherited hormonal abnormality. When men are afflicted with this condition, their sexual development will be affected.

Symptoms of adrenal gland disorders

The popular adrenal gland disorder symptoms are:

  • excessive fatigue
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sweating
  • low blood pressure
  • weight gain or loss
  • irregular menstrual flows
  • low blood sugar
  • dark patches on the skin
  • excessive cravings for salt
  • joint ache
  • muscle ache

These symptoms can seem subtle at first but can with time become worsen and veryfrequent.

If you have these symptoms repeatedly, you should see a doctor for a quick assessment of what might be actually wrong with you.

How adrenal gland disorders can be diagnosed

What the diagnosis for an adrenal gland disorder will entail include blood tests and imaging tests. While the imaging tests will try to detect tumors in the pituitary and adrenal glands, blood tests will check the following:

  • circulating levels of adrenal hormone
  • circulating levels of pituitary hormones
  • circulating levels of glucose in the blood
  • circulating potassium levels in the blood
  • circulating sodium levels in the blood

The imaging tests that can be used to check tumors include: MRI, ultrasound scan, and X-ray. Any of these imagingtechniques will create vivid pictures of the adrenal and pituitary glands. Thepresence of any endocrine tissue deterioration and other abnormal signs canalso be assessed via these techniques.

How adrenal gland disorders are treated

If you have been diagnosed with an adrenal gland disorder, treatments will be recommended by your doctor. The goal of any treatment you will be given will be to ensurethe proper functioning of the glands involved i.e. the pituitary or the adrenalglands.

If the secretory function of the adrenal glands is low, a hormonal replacement therapy will be the choice treatment. This is the case in Addison disease.

In the case of excessive secretion of adrenal hormones, a radiation treatment will be the preferred choice of treatment.

Surgery can also come into consideration in any of the following instances:

  • presence of malignant tumors
  • presence of either a pituitary or an adrenal gland tumor
  • failure from the use of hormone suppressants

Periodic hormonal blood levels will be done by your doctor while treatment is ongoing.

Because of the close relationship the adrenal glands has with other endocrine organs, your doctor will assess the thyroid, pancreas, sex organs, and pituitary gland for any signs of abnormalities in them.

The outlook for adrenal gland disorders

Your adrenal glands plus their hormones are quintessential for body processes every day. If you have been diagnosed with an adrenal gland disorder, it is critical to adhere to the treatment plan your doctor will prescribe for you.

Adrenal glands disorders outlooks vary with their underlying cause.

Your doctor will give you crucial information as it relates with this if you ask him. You will be well-educated on the different treatment plans and outlook.

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