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Adrenal glands

The adrenal glands are two small triangle-shaped glands. One gland is located on top of each kidney.

Information

Each adrenal gland is about the size of the top part of the thumb. The outer part of the gland is called the cortex. It produces steroid hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone, and hormones that can be changed into testosterone. The inner part of the gland is called the medulla. It produces epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones are also called adrenaline and noradrenaline.

When the glands produce more or less hormones than normal, you can become sick. This might happen at birth or later in life.

The adrenal glands can be affected by many diseases, such as autoimmune disorders, infections, tumors, and bleeding.

The pituitary, a small gland at the bottom of the brain, releases a hormone called ACTH that is important in stimulating the adrenal cortex.

Conditions related to adrenal gland problems include:

  • Addison disease (also called adrenal insufficiency) -- disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough hormones
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia -- disorder in which the adrenal glands lack an enzyme needed to make hormones
  • Cushing syndrome -- disorder that occurs when the body has a high level of the hormone cortisol
  • Diabetes caused by another medical problem
  • Glucocorticoid medicines
  • Excessive or unwanted hair in women (hirsutism)
  • Hump behind shoulders (dorsocervical fat pad)
  • Hypoglycemia -- low blood sugar
  • Primary aldosteronism (Conn syndrome) -- disorder in which the adrenal gland releases too much of the hormone aldosterone
  • Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome -- collection of symptoms resulting from failure of the adrenal glands to function normally as a result of bleeding into the gland

References

Friedman TC. Adrenal gland. In: Benjamin IJ, Griggs RC, Wing EJ, Fitz JG, eds. Andreoli and Carpenter's Cecil Essentials of Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 64.

Standring S. Suprarenal (adrenal) gland. In: Standring S, ed. Gray's Anatomy. 41st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 71.

Stewart PM, Newell-Price JDC. The adrenal cortex. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 15.

  • Endocrine glands

    Endocrine glands - illustration

    Endocrine glands release hormones (chemical messengers) into the bloodstream to be transported to various organs and tissues throughout the body. For instance, the pancreas secretes insulin, which allows the body to regulate levels of sugar in the blood. The thyroid gets instructions from the pituitary to secrete hormones which determine the rate of metabolism in the body (the more hormone in the bloodstream, the faster the chemical activity; the less hormone, the slower the activity).

    Endocrine glands

    illustration

  • Adrenal glands

    Adrenal glands - illustration

    Triangular-shaped glands located on top of the kidneys. They produce steroid hormones such as aldosterone, cortisol, and precursor sex steroids that can be converted into estrogen and testosterone. They also produce the hormones adrenalin (epinephrine) and noradrenalin (norepinephrine).

    Adrenal glands

    illustration

  • Adrenal gland biopsy

    Adrenal gland biopsy - illustration

    The adrenal glands are endocrine glands which are located immediately on top of the kidneys. During an adrenal biopsy, a small sample of tissue is removed and sent to the pathologist for testing. The biopsy can be performed when a suspicious mass or tumor is found on one or both of the adrenal glands.

    Adrenal gland biopsy

    illustration

    • Endocrine glands

      Endocrine glands - illustration

      Endocrine glands release hormones (chemical messengers) into the bloodstream to be transported to various organs and tissues throughout the body. For instance, the pancreas secretes insulin, which allows the body to regulate levels of sugar in the blood. The thyroid gets instructions from the pituitary to secrete hormones which determine the rate of metabolism in the body (the more hormone in the bloodstream, the faster the chemical activity; the less hormone, the slower the activity).

      Endocrine glands

      illustration

    • Adrenal glands

      Adrenal glands - illustration

      Triangular-shaped glands located on top of the kidneys. They produce steroid hormones such as aldosterone, cortisol, and precursor sex steroids that can be converted into estrogen and testosterone. They also produce the hormones adrenalin (epinephrine) and noradrenalin (norepinephrine).

      Adrenal glands

      illustration

    • Adrenal gland biopsy

      Adrenal gland biopsy - illustration

      The adrenal glands are endocrine glands which are located immediately on top of the kidneys. During an adrenal biopsy, a small sample of tissue is removed and sent to the pathologist for testing. The biopsy can be performed when a suspicious mass or tumor is found on one or both of the adrenal glands.

      Adrenal gland biopsy

      illustration

    Tests for Adrenal glands

     
     

    Review Date: 5/17/2018

    Reviewed By: Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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