Adrenal Gland Disorders

What are Adrenal Gland Disorders?

The cortex produces several different hormones, the most important of which is cortisone. The medulla produces adrenaline, that weird chemical that can be pumped out of the gland in moments and produce a set of circumstances enabling the body to engage in “fight or flight.” It prepares a person for an emergency. So the heart starts pumping rapidly (more blood and more energy to the muscle system), the nerves become tingly, and muscles twitchy and ready to move rapidly, more sugar pours into the bloodstream to produce more immediate energy, the “hairs stand on end” so as to conserve heat and insulate the system.

Overactive Adrenal Glands

The adrenal cortex may be overactive, pumping out excessive amounts of the hormones it produces. The cause of this may be a simple “hyperplasia.” or increased activity for reasons unknown or from excess ACTH production by the pituitary, or it may be due to a tumour that starts to grow. This may be a simple benign (noncancerous) tumour, or it may be a malignant (cancerous) one.

The vast increase in cells will bring about excessive amounts of hormone. Depending on which hormone is chiefly affected, various results will take place. There are three main effects, all relatively rare (fortunately), but they are important and may be serious.

Glucocorticoids, produced in excess, will cause Cushing’s syndrome. Altiosterone produced in excessive amounts will lead to a syndrome termed primary aldosteronism or Conn’s syndrome. (“Syndrome” means a condition or group of symptoms.)

Androgen excesses may lead to so called precocious puberty in males, and virilisation in females. (This means that they tend to develop masculine features.)

Underactive Adrenal Glands

The adrenal cortex may be underactive or overactive. Disorders either way are not common.

When hormonal secretion is below normal, the condition is called “adrenal insufficiency,” meaning that insufficient amounts are being produced and pumped into the body’s circulation.

A reduced activity of the adrenal cortex may be a situation of relatively sudden onset, when it is called “acute adrenal insufficiency”; or it may be a more longstanding disorder, so called “chronic adrenal insufficiency,” better known as Addison’s disease.