The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that produce several types of hormones. A hormone is a chemical messenger transported in tissue fluids such as blood to stimulate specific cells or tissues into action. Each hormone helps regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions.

The adrenal glands are shaped like a boomerang and located on top of each kidney. They are about the size of the end of your thumb. The adrenal glands produce hormones that affect almost every system in your body. When the adrenal glands fail to work properly, serious diseases and disorders can develop.

One of the hormones that the adrenal glands secretes is called adrenaline. Adrenaline produces a sudden and remarkable burst of energy.

Outer and inner layer

The adrenal glands consists of two portions: the inner core (medulla) and the outer layer (cortex).

The inner core of the adrenal gland produces hormones called catecholamines. The 2 most important catecholamines are: adrenaline and noradrenaline. Physical and emotional stress usually trigger their release. When secreted into the bloodstream, adrenaline and noradrenaline increase heart rate and blood pressure. Adrenaline often produces a sudden and remarkable burst of energy.

The outer layer of the adrenal gland produces hormones called corticosteroids. There are three types of corticosteroids.

  1. Sex Hormones. Male androgens and female estrogens.
    • They affect sexual development and reproduction.
    • Sex hormones are also produced in larger amounts in the testicles and ovaries.
  2. Glucocorticoids hormones aid in the conversion of starchy foods into glycogen.
    • An important glucocorticoid is cortisol.
      • Cortisol helps regulate the immune system, helps maintain proper blood pressure and blood volume, and helps the body deal with physical stress.
  3. Mineralocorticoids control the body’s content of the minerals sodium and potassium.

Symptoms of adrenal gland disfunction

  • Upper body obesity, round face and neck, and thinning arms and legs
  • Skin problems, such as acne or reddish-blue streaks on the abdomen or underarm area
  • High blood pressure
    • High blood pressure is pressure of 130 systolic or higher, or 80 diastolic or higher, that stays high over time.
    • Often called a ‘silent killer’, high blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms.
  • Muscle and bone weakness

Diseases and syndromes caused by adrenal gland disfunction

  • Cushing’s Syndrome
    • Caused by overactive adrenals and excessive corticosteroids in the body.
  • Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH)
    • Individuals with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia does not have an enzyme that the adrenal glands need to create hormones that help regulate metabolism, the immune system, and blood pressure.
  • Pituitary Tumors
  • Pheochromocytoma/Paraganglioma
  • Addison’s Disease
  • Hyperaldosteronism

Symptoms of overactive adrenal glands

  • Upper body obesity
  • Round face
  • Increased and unexplained fat around neck or a fatty hump between the shoulders
  • Fragile and thin skin
  • Stretch marks on abdomen, thighs, buttocks, arms, and breasts (without significant growth spurts)
  • Unexplained bone and muscle weakness
  • Extreme fatigue

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Is there anything wrong with my adrenal gland?
  • Are both glands affected?
  • Do I need any tests done?
  • What are my symptoms that indicate adrenal glands inflammation?
  • How do you test for adrenal gland disease?
  • Are my adrenal glands enlarged?
  • How long will it take to get well?
  • What do you think is causing this?
  • What can I do to feel better?
  • What are the treatment options?
  • Will the treatment (medications) interact with other meds I am taking?
  • What are the emergency symptoms?
  • Do I need to come back for a checkup?
  • How do I know if I am healing?
  • Should I change my eating habits?
  • Is it ok to go back to work?

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