Adrenal conditions

Introduction

The adrenal glands are orange-colored endocrine glands, which are located on the top of both kidneys. The adrenal glands are triangular shaped and measure about one-half inch in height and 3 inches in length. Each gland consists of a medulla (the center of the gland), which is surrounded by the cortex. The medulla is responsible for producing epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline). The adrenal cortex produces other hormones necessary for fluid and electrolyte (salt) balance in the body such as cortisone and aldosterone. The adrenal cortex also makes sex hormones but this only becomes important if overproduction is present.

Indications for Surgical Removal of Adrenal Glands

The indications for surgical removal of the adrenal gland are clear and include following:

  • Tumors of the adrenal cortex which overproduce aldosterone, Cortisone (Conn’s, Cushing’s syndrome).
  • Tumors of the adrenal medulla, which overproduce of adrenaline (pheochromocytoma).
  • Most solid tumors of the adrenal gland which are greater than 4 cm regardless of whether they produce hormone or not (to rule out malignancy).
  • Primary cancers of the adrenal.
  • Any size adrenal mass, which causes symptoms such as flank pain or tenderness.

The above conditions, which indicate the surgical removal of an adrenal gland, exclude the situation in which cancer has spread from another organ to the adrenal (metastatic spread).

Causes

Causes of adrenal gland disorders include:

  • Genetic mutations.
  • Tumors including pheochromocytomas.
  • Infections.