Adrenal Gland Overview

The adrenal glands are small, triangular glands located above the kidneys. Adrenal glands measure about 1” by 3” and one is located above each kidney. Our adrenal glands serve an important purpose, regulating several hormones that play an essential role normal bodily function.

The cortex, or outer portion of the adrenal gland, is divided into layers that secrete individual hormones such as:

  • Cortisol, a steroid hormone that is most commonly activated during times of stress. This hormone suppresses the immune system to prevent excess inflammatory response
  • Aldosterone, a steroid hormone that largely regulates blood pressure and plays a key role in heart and kidney health
  • Testosterone, a steroid hormone secreted in small amounts from the adrenal gland that helps regulate sexual function and offers other protective benefits

The medulla or inner potion of the adrenal glands secretes

  • Epinephrine (adrenaline), a commonly secreted hormone during times of stress. Epinephrine activates the fight or flight response. It also increases the heart rate as well as blood pressure and muscle strength to allow the body and mind to respond more quickly to a stressful situation
  • Norepinephrine (noradrenaline), activates many of the body’s responses in much the same way as epinephrine albeit with small differences

When an adrenal gland begins to malfunction, either secreting too much, or too little hormone, the effects can be significant – causing a wide range of symptoms. It is important to note however that not all adrenal problems are caused by the gland itself and thorough examination and testing must be performed to determine the root cause. Common causes of adrenal abnormalities usually involve tumors or infections in and around the adrenal gland and include:

  • Cushing Syndrome: involving the overproduction of cortisol due to a tumor located in the pituitary gland, adrenal gland or elsewhere
  • Adrenal cancer: a rare condition that causes excess hormonal production
  • Pheochromocytoma: most often a benign condition that releases excess epinephrine and norepinephrine due to a tumor in the medulla of the adrenal gland
  • Hyperaldosteronism: the overproduction of aldosterone leading primarily to high blood pressure

Learn more about adrenal surgery