Your adrenal glands are some of the tiniest glands in your body (about the size of a pea), but they’re hard workers. Their job is to produce a variety of hormones that you need to live and function. When the adrenals aren’t working right, you’ll feel the symptoms, but matching the symptom to the right hormone disorder is a complicated process. Fortunately, our endocrinology team at Central Maine Healthcare is highly skilled at identifying adrenal problems and finding the right treatment.
Conditions We Treat
Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and produce several different hormones, including cortisol, aldosterone and sex hormones called androgens. Adrenal disorders signal that your body is producing either too much or too little of some hormone, and the remedies are different for each hormone and disorder.
Cortisol and Cushing’s Syndrome
The most important hormone produced by the adrenal glands, cortisol helps you to burn protein and fat, control your blood sugar, manage stress and regulate your blood pressure. When your body produces too much cortisol, you may develop a disease called Cushing’s syndrome. Symptoms of high cortisol levels include:
- Weight gain, especially around the abdomen
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thin skin
Cushing’s syndrome can be caused by taking cortisol-like drugs used to treat asthma and rheumatic arthritis; left untreated, it can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and other disorders. Diagnosing Cushing’s usually involves testing your saliva or urine. The most effective treatment is surgery to remove the adrenal glands, but sometimes treating the symptoms (such as medicine for high blood pressure) is sufficient.
Aldosterone is a hormone that helps regulate your sodium and water balance, so when you produce too much or too little, your blood pressure is affected. We need it to help our salivary glands, sweat glands, colon and kidneys work properly; an imbalance can lead to a stroke, heart attack or kidney failure. There are medications to stop overproduction of aldosterone (and some other adrenal hormones), and under-producing usually can be treated with hormone replacement.
Addison’s Disease and Adrenal Insufficiency
With Addison’s disease, the adrenal glands are producing too little cortisol. (Some people are born unable to produce cortisol.) The term “adrenal insufficiency” sometimes points to too little cortisol or aldosterone. Symptoms can be fatigue, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. It’s identified with a blood test, and hormone replacement usually is the best treatment.
Your adrenal glands also can develop tumors, detected with a blood test, CT scan or other diagnostic tests. Usually they’re treated by surgically removing the adrenals.