ADRENAL GLANDS

ADRENAL GLANDS

Adrenal glands, also known as suprarenal glands, are small, triangular-shaped glands located on top of both kidneys.

Adrenal glands produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, response to stress and other essential functions.

Adrenal glands are composed of two parts — the cortex and the medulla — which are each responsible for producing different hormones.

When adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones, this can lead to adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease).

Adrenal glands may develop nodules that can be benign or malignant, which can potentially produce excessive amounts of certain hormones leading to various health issues.

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Types of Adrenal glands

Adrenal glands are composed of two parts — the cortex and the medulla — which are each responsible for producing different hormones.

  • The adrenal cortex is the outer region and also the largest part of an adrenal gland. It is divided into three separate zones: zona glomerulosa, zona fasciculata and zona reticularis. Each zone is responsible for producing specific hormones.
  • The adrenal medulla is located inside the adrenal cortex in the center of an adrenal gland. It produces “stress hormones,” including adrenaline.The adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla are enveloped in an adipose capsule that forms a protective layer around an adrenal gland.

Adrenal Gland Disorders

The two common ways in which adrenal glands cause health issues are by producing too little or too much of certain hormones, which leads to hormonal imbalances. These abnormalities of the adrenal function can be caused by various diseases of the adrenal glands or the pituitary gland.

Adrenal Insufficiency

Adrenal insufficiency is a rare disorder. It may be caused by disease of the adrenal glands (primary adrenal insufficiency, Addison’s disease) or by diseases in the hypothalamus or the pituitary (secondary adrenal insufficiency). It is the opposite of Cushing syndrome and is characterized by low levels of adrenal hormones. The symptoms include weight loss, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, darkening of the skin (only in primary adrenal insufficiency), abdominal pain, among others.

The causes of primary adrenal insufficiency may include autoimmune disorders, fungal and other infections, cancer (rarely), and genetic factors. Although adrenal insufficiency usually develops over time, it can also appear suddenly as an acute adrenal failure (adrenal crisis). It has similar symptoms, but the consequences are more serious, including life-threatening shock, seizures, and coma. These may develop if the condition is left untreated.