Risk Factors For Adrenal Disorders

What Are Adrenal Disorders?


There are many conditions that can lead to problems with the adrenal gland function. The adrenal glands are small and shaped like triangles and are located just above each kidney. They are sometimes called suprarenal glands. Their job is to make hormones that you need to keep your metabolism, blood pressure, immune system and stress response in balance.


Adrenal disorders are the result of your glands making too much or not enough of certain hormones. Hormones produced by the adrenals include hydrocortisone (also called cortisol), adrenaline and aldosterone. You can think of dominoes and how one movement by one domino sets off a chain reaction, making the next domino in line fall down. If something happens and the next domino doesn’t get the message, the effect is ruined.


In many cases, the causes for adrenal disorders aren’t known. However, some types of adrenal disorders are linked to genetics. Others may result in more frequency if you have to take or choose to take certain types of drugs, such as steroids. Steroids are used to treat many types of diseases, but you should always be aware of their many side effects.


What Causes Adrenal Disorders?


Adrenal gland disorders are caused by problems with the glands themselves that cause overproduction or underproduction of hormones. They are also caused by problems in other glands, such as the pituitary gland. Genetics can also play a part in certain adrenal disorders. In many cases, no one really knows why the disorders develop.


What Are The Symptoms Of Adrenal Disorders?


The symptoms of adrenal disorders vary depending on which hormones are involved. Many of the symptoms of adrenal disorders are similar to those of other illnesses.


Symptoms Of High Levels Of Cortisone (Cushing’s Disease) Include:


  • Upper body obesity, while arms and legs stay thinner. (A common trait called a Buffalo hump refers to a lump in between the shoulders.)
  • Being tired and confused.
  • Developing high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Skin that bruises easily.
  • Wide purplish streak marks on the abdominal skin.


Symptoms Of High Levels Of Aldosterone Include:


  • High blood pressure.
  • Low potassium levels.
  • Weakness.
  • Pain and spasms in your muscles.


Symptoms of high levels of male sex hormones are only apparent in females or in young boys before puberty. 


These include:


  • Growing facial hair and or balding.
  • Developing acne.
  • Having a deeper voice.
  • Becoming more muscular.
  • Developing a greater sex drive.
  • Developing masculine traits is called virilization.


How Are Adrenal Disorders Diagnosed?


Your healthcare provider will likely start by asking questions about your symptoms. They will then order tests to determine the levels of hormones in your saliva, blood and urine. If your provider suspects tumors, they might order imaging tests such as CT scans, MRIs or nuclear imaging tests. Your regular healthcare provider may refer you to an endocrinologist, a specialist in hormones and diseases of the endocrine system.


How Are Adrenal Disorders Treated?


Treatment of adrenal disorders depends on the disorder itself. Some conditions will require medications to add to hormone levels. Your provider may suggest surgery or radiation for disorders that involve tumors.


What Are The Complications Of Adrenal Disorders?


The adrenal glands and the hormones they control are important to many of your body’s functions. Untreated disorders can have serious complications. Some of them may be life-threatening.


How Can I Prevent Adrenal Disorders?


Since researchers don’t know why certain adrenal disorders happen, there seems to be no way to prevent them from happening. In the cases where you might be tempted to take male hormones to build muscle mass, you should stop and consider that you may end up damaging other glands.


When Should I Contact My Healthcare Provider About Adrenal Disorders?


You should always contact your healthcare provider when you have symptoms that concern you, with or without a diagnosis of an adrenal disorder. Some of these might include:


  • Losing weight without trying, or gaining weight primarily in the upper body.
  • Feeling so tired that you can’t get through your daily tasks.
  • Being in any type of pain that is severe or that doesn’t stop.
  • Experiencing changes in hair growth.
  • Experiencing skin changes, like bruising easily or developing stretch marks.


If you have adrenal insufficiency, ask your doctor for an injectable glucocorticoid that you can carry with you. Make sure that you know how to inject yourself, and that your family and friends also know how and when to inject you.


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