There are two adrenal glands, also known as suprarenal glands, located at the top of your kidneys. They produce hormones that help regulate your metabolism, blood pressure, immune system, response to stress, and other essential functions.
An adrenal gland is made of two main parts: the adrenal cortex and the medulla cortex. In addition, the adrenal cortex has different zones, and each part is responsible for producing specific hormones.
The adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla are enveloped in an adipose capsule that forms a protective layer around an adrenal gland.
Your adrenal glands can sometimes develop problems like adrenal cancer. If you have a family history of adrenal cancer and develop symptoms, contact the board-certified urologists at Urology of Greater Atlanta. We have multiple locations throughout Georgia.
Our team can provide state-of-the-art diagnoses and treatment to eliminate the tumor and restore your health. Call our practice or schedule a consultation online today!
What Hormones Do Your Adrenals Make, and What Are Their Purposes?
As mentioned before, the role of the adrenal glands is to release certain hormones into the bloodstream. Most of these hormones are linked to how the body responds to stress, and some are vital for living.
Adrenal glands produce hormones in response to signals from the brain. The pituitary gland sends these signals after receiving alerts from the hypothalamus. Each part of the adrenal gland produces different hormones for specific functions.
As previously stated, the adrenal cortex is separated into zones, and each zone secretes a specific hormone. The adrenal cortex produces the following hormones:
- Cortisol — It is produced by the zona fasciculata and has many functions. It controls the body’s use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It can increase blood sugar levels, regulate blood pressure, and suppress inflammation. It also regulates the sleep/wake cycle and can give your body a boost of energy when facing stressful situations.
- Aldosterone — This hormone is produced by the zona glomerulosa. It plays a central role in regulating blood pressure and blood pH by controlling sodium and potassium levels in the blood.
- DHEA and Steroid Hormones — These are hormones produced by the zona reticularis. They are known as weak male hormones. These hormones are later converted in the ovaries into female sex hormones (estrogens) and in the testes into male sex hormones (androgens). However, the ovaries and testes will produce much more of these hormones without the help of the adrenal gland.
Adrenal Medulla Cortex
The adrenal medulla has the almost exclusive role of controlling the flight or fight response. The hormones it produces are called epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), which have similar functions.
These functions include:
- Increased heart rate
- Stronger contractions of the heart
- Increase blood flow to the brain and muscles
- Assisting glucose metabolism
- Regulating blood pressure during stress
These hormones are usually activated by emotionally or physically stressful situations when your body needs extra energy to deal with the situation.
What Are the 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 adrenal function abnormalities can be caused by various diseases of the adrenal glands or the pituitary gland. Below are some of the possible adrenal disorders.
- Adrenal Insufficiency — It is a rare disorder characterized by low levels of adrenal hormones. It is caused by disease either to the adrenal gland, resulting in primary adrenal insufficiency, or illness to the hypothalamus or the pituitary, which is secondary adrenal insufficiency. Symptoms may include weight loss, poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, darkening of the skin (only in primary adrenal insufficiency), and abdominal pain.
- Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia — This is a genetic disorder that also causes adrenal insufficiency. The condition can result in an excess of androgen, which may lead to male characteristics in girls and early puberty in boys.
- Overactive Adrenal Glands — Adrenal glands larger than 4 cm can produce excessive amounts of certain hormones and can be cancerous.
- Cushing Syndrome — This condition results in excessive production of cortisol. Symptoms may include weight gain and deposits of fat in certain parts of the body, such as on the back of the neck. There may also be excessive hair growth, muscle weakness, high blood pressure, and other issues.
- Adrenal Cancer — Malignant adrenal tumors are rare but dangerous because they can spread to other organs and body tissues. Cancerous adrenal tumors can still produce hormones and can sometimes produce an excess, resulting in some of the aforementioned symptoms. You may also have abdominal or flank pain as the tumor grows.
When to See a Doctor About Your Adrenal Glands
It’s important to see a doctor about your adrenal glands if you have symptoms that concern you. Some symptoms related to adrenal disorders include the following:
- Overtiredness that affects your normal routine
- Unexpected weight loss
- Gaining upper body weight
- Being in severe pain that doesn’t stop
- Changes in hair growth
- Bruising more easily or developing stretch marks
Our team of board-certified urologists at Urology of Greater Atlanta offers a variety of treatments for adrenal cancer, depending on the severity of your condition and your overall health needs.
Your treatment plan could include medication, radiation, or chemotherapy. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the tumor or even remove your adrenal glands.
Call Urology of Greater Atlanta or request an appointment online today if you have any concerns about adrenal cancer. We have multiple locations throughout Georgia. We look forward to helping you put your mind at ease!