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Adrenal Gland Disorders: Condition Information

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What are the adrenal glands?

silhouette of a person, with kidneys illustrated in their location in the body, and a close-up with labels of the kidneys and adrenal glandsThe adrenal glands, located on the top of each kidney, are responsible for releasing different classes of hormones.

The outer part of the gland, called the adrenal cortex, produces the hormones cortisol (pronounced KAWR-tuh-sohl) and aldosterone (pronounced al-DOS-tuh-rohn). The inner part of the gland, called the adrenal medulla (pronounced muh-DUHL-uh), produces the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline.

These hormones control many important functions in the body, including1:

  • Maintaining metabolic processes, such as managing blood sugar levels and regulating inflammation
  • Regulating the balance of salt and water
  • Controlling the "fight or flight" response to stress
  • Maintaining pregnancy
  • Initiating and controlling sexual maturation during childhood and puberty

The adrenal glands are also an important source of sex steroids, such as estrogen and testosterone.

What are adrenal gland disorders?

Adrenal gland disorders occur when the adrenal glands do not work properly. They can be classified into disorders where too much hormone is produced or where too little hormone is produced.

These disorders can occur when the adrenal gland itself is affected by a disease process due to genetic mutation, tumors, or infections. Or, sometimes the cause is a problem in another gland, such as the pituitary, which helps to regulate the adrenal gland. In addition, some medications can cause the adrenal gland not to function properly. When the adrenal glands produce too few or too many hormones, or when too many hormones are introduced by an outside source, significant disorders can develop.2,3

  1. EndocrineWeb. (2012). An overview of the adrenal glands: Beyond fight or flight. Retrieved June 29, 2012 from External Web Site Policy [top]
  2. American Urological Association Foundation. (2011). Adrenal gland disorders. Retrieved June 4, 2012, from External Web Site Policy [top]
  3. MedlinePlus. (2013). Adrenal gland disorders. Retrieved November 6, 2013, from [top]

Last Reviewed: 09/30/2013
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