Adrenal Glands: Definition, Function, Associated Disorders, Symptoms Diagnosis and Treatment

They are in charge of producing essential hormones for life.

The body has two adrenal glands located in the upper part of the kidneys. They are part of the endocrine system, a collection of glands that produce hormones.

While they are small in size, the adrenal glands are responsible for numerous functions related to hormones in the body. As a result, disorders that affect the adrenal glands can significantly impact health. If you suspect you have an adrenal disease, talk to your doctor.


Each adrenal gland contains an outer adrenal cortex. It is responsible for producing certain steroid hormones, including aldosterone and cortisol.

Each gland also contains an internal adrenal medulla, producing several other hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Aldosterone helps control blood pressure by administering the balance of potassium and sodium in the body. Cortisol works together with adrenaline and noradrenaline to help regulate the stress reaction. Cortisol also helps regulate metabolism, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.

The pituitary gland controls the adrenal glands, another part of the endocrine system. Located in the head, the pituitary gland is the central controller of the endocrine glands.


Abnormal signals can alter the number of hormones the pituitary gland tells the adrenal glands to produce. This can cause them to have too little or too much hormone. Hormonal imbalances can occur, causing a variety of symptoms and health problems.

Associated disorders

What disorders affect your adrenal glands?

Disorders of the adrenal glands can develop when:

  • Your pituitary gland does not control your hormone production properly.
  • Benign or noncancerous tumors grow in your adrenal glands.
  • Malignant or cancerous tumors grow in your adrenal glands.
  • Infections develop in the adrenal glands.
  • You inherit specific genetic mutations.

These disorders include the following medical conditions:

  • Addison’s disease: this rare autoimmune disease develops when the adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol or aldosterone. This is a self-destructive disease in which your immune system can attack your adrenal tissues.
  • Cushing’s syndrome: This rare disorder occurs when the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Prolonged use of steroids can cause similar symptoms.
  • Adrenal cancer occurs when malignant tumors develop in the adrenal glands.
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia: People with this hereditary hormonal disorder have difficulty producing adrenal hormones. This disorder affects the development of sexual organs in men.

What are the symptoms of disorders of the adrenal glands?

Symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness.
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Perspiration.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting
  • Increase in salt cravings.
  • Low blood sugar
  • Low blood pressure is also known as hypotension.
  • Irregular menstrual periods.
  • Dark patches on your skin.
  • Muscle and joint pain.
  • Gain or loss of weight.

These tend to seem subtle at first. Over time, they usually get worse and become more frequent. If you experience any of these recurring health problems, make an appointment with your doctor.


How are disorders of the adrenal glands diagnosed?

Your doctor may use blood and imaging tests to diagnose disorders of the adrenal glands. They will probably start ordering blood tests. You can use these tests to measure your levels of:

  • Adrenal hormones
  • Pituitary hormones
  • Glucose.
  • Potassium.
  • Sodium.

If you suspect an adrenal gland disorder, you may order imaging tests. They can use ultrasound, MRI, and X-ray images to create images of your adrenal and pituitary glands.

This can help them detect possible tumors, deterioration of their endocrine tissues, and other signs of disease.


How are disorders of the adrenal glands treated?

If you are diagnosed with an adrenal gland disorder, your doctor will prescribe a treatment to help your adrenal glands function again.

You may be prescribed hormone replacement therapy if you have a low adrenal function, such as that caused by Addison’s disease. They can also recommend medications and radiation therapy if their glands produce too much hormone.

Surgery is another treatment option for certain adrenal disorders. Your doctor may recommend surgery if:

  • You have malignant tumors that can be removed.
  • You have tumors in your adrenal or pituitary glands.
  • Hormone suppressors fail.

During treatment, your doctor will need to check your blood periodically to monitor your hormone levels.

Since your adrenal glands are related to other endocrine system organs, your doctor may also look for signs of disease in your pancreas, sex organs, thyroid gland, and pituitary gland.