Adrenal Gland Diseases

Addison's Disease

Addison’s disease (aka chronic adrenal insufficiency) is a rare endocrine disorder in which the adrenal glands have trouble producing enough steroid hormones for proper bodily function. Consequently, most common symptoms can be traced back to the lack of a specific adrenal hormone; for example, the presence of low sodium levels and high potassium levels in the blood are produced by the lack of an adrenal hormone called aldosterone that encourages reabsorption of sodium and excretion of potassium in the urine.

The treatment of Addison's disease usually consists of replacing the hormones (cortisol and aldosterone) that are not being sufficiently produced. The patient must maintain this medication regimen to replace these hormones for life. The dosage may need to be altered if the patient is to undergo surgery, gets pregnant or experiences any other significant stressors in their life.

Adrenal Adenoma

An adrenal adenoma is a noncancerous tumor that develops within one of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are the small, triangle-shaped organs that sit on top of the kidneys in the back of the upper abdomen. They produce several hormones and chemicals, including estrogen, progesterone, aldosterone, cortisol, and adrenalin. These hormones help to control metabolism and regulate different processes throughout the body.

Also known as benign adrenal tumors, the majority of small adrenal adenomas cause no symptoms, are not dangerous, and do not need to be treated. The vast majority of these adrenal adenomas are nonfunctioning because they do not produce any hormones. An adrenal adenoma can occur at any age but most commonly occurs between the ages of 40 and 60.

In rare cases, an adrenal adenoma may secrete high levels of certain hormones that can cause complications and noticeable symptoms to occur. In these cases, treatment for adrenal adenomas may include medication or a surgical procedure to remove the adrenal gland on which the adenoma has grown.

Conn's Syndrome

Conn's syndrome, also known as primary hyperaldosteronism, is a relatively uncommon condition in which the body produces excessive levels of the hormone, aldosterone, which is responsible for regulating sodium and potassium levels in the blood. As a result, there is an excessive retention of sodium in the body and a loss of potassium, which in turn can cause hypertension, or high blood pressure. It can occur at any age but more commonly affects people between 30 and 50 years of age. This condition is more common in women than men.

Treatment for Conn's syndrome varies depending on the cause and severity of the condition. Mild cases of Conn's syndrome can be managed with medications and reducing salt intake in the diet. Primary hyperaldosteronism that is caused by an adrenal tumor may be treated by surgically removing the involved adrenal gland.

Cushing's Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is a collection of a number of disorders that ultimately result in the body’s exposure to excess amounts of cortisol or similar steroid hormones. The problem may be cause by a primary overproduction of these hormones by the adrenal gland. In some cases, the problem is caused by increased stimulation of the adrenal gland resulting from excessive production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) by the pituitary gland (Cushing’s disease) or increased ACTH from some other source.  Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include obesity of the upper body except the arms, a pronouncedly round face, acne, easy bruising, bone pain and muscle weakness.

To diagnose Cushing’s syndrome, your doctor will perform blood and urine tests to measure your cortisol levels.  The recommended treatment is often surgery.  If this is unsuccessful, medication may be necessary to reduce the production of cortisol.  In the most severe cases, surgery to remove both of the adrenal glands may be considered.

Hyperadrenalism

Hyperadrenalism refers to conditions in which the adrenal glands secrete excessive amounts of the hormones that they produce.   The problem may involve an overproduction of androgens, cortisol, aldosterone, or similar hormones.  Excessive production of these hormones results in a variety of different symptoms that may include excessive facial hair growth or hair loss, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, weight gain and more.  A diagnosis is typically made after a physical examination, blood tests and urine tests are completed.

Treatment of hyperadrenalism will vary depending on which hormone is creating the problem, its underlying cause, and the severity of the symptoms.  Some patients respond well to medications that slow the hormones, while others may require surgery to remove one of the adrenal glands.

Hypoadrenalism

Hypoadrenalism refers to a number of conditions caused by underactive adrenal glands.  Since the adrenal glands are responsible for the production of several important hormones, hypoadrenalism may result in hormonal deficiencies that can potentially be very serious.  Some common symptoms of hypoadrenalism are fatigue, dizziness, muscle weakness, nausea and loss of appetite.  A diagnosis is typically made after a physical examination is conducted and blood and urine tests are performed to check cortisol and aldosterone levels.

Hypoadrenalism is generally treated with medication taken orally.  If the underlying problem causing the condition can be resolved, the hypoadrenalism treatment will be short term.  However, if the underlying cause is a permanent condition, life-long medication will be necessary.  Patients may require one or more prescription drugs to replace the missing hormones and keep the body functioning properly.

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