Adrenal Glands

Endocrine glands (adrenal glands) are situated on the top of each kidney. Cortisol, aldosterone, and adrenaline are hormones produced by adrenal glands. These hormones help to regulate different bodily functions such as blood pressure, response to stress, metabolism, and others.

What are Adrenal Glands?

These glands are triangle-shaped small glands on the top of kidneys and they are a part of the endocrine system. They are responsible for regulating different vital bodily functions. For example:

  • Stress response
  • The body’s defense (immune system)
  • Metabolism
  • Sexual characteristics development
  • Blood pressure and others

The cortex (outside) and medulla (inside) are the two parts of the adrenal glands. Both parts produce and release hormones.

Endocrine System

This is an essential part of the body which produces and releases hormones. It contains different glands that are responsible for that. Moreover, a gland is an organ that can make one or more substances (including digestive juices, sweat, tears, or hormones).

Hormones are certain chemical substances that help carry messages to the organs, skin, muscles, and other tissues through the bloodstream.

Check below glands that form the endocrine system:

  • Pineal gland
  • Pancreas
  • Ovaries
  • Testicles
  • Adrenal glands
  • Parathyroid glands
  • Thyroid
  • Pituitary gland
  • Hypothalamus


Adrenal glands are producing and secreting the following vital hormones. Examples include:

  • Adrenaline (Epinephrine) and Noradrenaline (Norepinephrine) – These hormones are also known as catecholamines. They can raise your heart rate and increase the heart contractions. This effect leads to an increased blood flow to the muscles and brain and assists in glucose metabolism. Furthermore, they also help to control the squeezing of the blood vessels that maintain healthy blood pressure. The adrenal glands also release these hormones in stressful situations.
  • DHEA and Androgenic Steroids – It is considered a male hormone that usually does not have a biological impact. However, these hormones are converted to estrogen from ovaries and androgens in men by the testicles. In addition, women also produce androgens but in a smaller amount.
  • Aldosterone – This hormone is a mineralocorticoid hormone that is very important in regulating blood pressure and electrolyte levels (such as sodium and potassium). As a result, it regulates the blood pH.
  • Cortisol – This is another hormone released by adrenal glands that is responsible for different bodily functions. For example, it controls the body’s use of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Cortisol also suppresses inflammation, maintains healthy blood pressure, elevates blood sugar, and controls your sleep-wake cycle. Additionally, the adrenal glands also release cortisol to help you better handle a stressful or emergency situation.

However, the hormones listed above are classified into 2 categories. Examples include:

  • Catecholamines – Noradrenaline, adrenaline, and dopamine are the main catecholamines and they are similar to substances your body releases in physical and emotional stress response.
  • Steroid Hormones – These hormones usually help to regulate and control the body’s defense functions, metabolism, inflammation, salt and water balance, sexual characteristics development, and others.

Glands and Organs that Interact with Adrenal Glands

Different glands and body organs interact with these glands. Examples include:

  • Pituitary gland
  • Hypothalamus
  • Kidneys
  • Sympathetic nervous system

The hypothalamus and pituitary gland control the adrenal glands. A small area in the brain that is responsible for hormone regulation is called the hypothalamus. It makes and releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and antidiuretic hormone (vasopressin or ADH). These hormones trigger the pituitary gland to release corticotropin (adrenocorticotropic hormone or ACTH) that leads to adrenal gland stimulation.

Furthermore, another cause of the adrenal gland stimulation are kidneys. They control the release of aldosterone and the sympathetic nervous system helps to balance the noradrenaline and adrenaline.

Is it Possible to Live without Adrenal Glands?

The hormones that your adrenal glands make are vital and you cannot live without them. Rarely, these glands can be removed by surgery (adrenalectomy) due to certain adrenal diseases. Thereafter, your physician should prescribe you some medicines to replace the adrenal gland hormones. Discuss with your healthcare professional for more details.

Adrenal Gland Disorders

There are different adrenal gland disorders that may happen. They usually, impact hormone production of one or more hormones. While some of them are temporary, others are chronic. Check below the main causes of adrenal gland disorders:

  • Genetic mutations
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Tumors (including pheochromocytomas)
  • Trauma and injuries of the adrenal glands
  • Infections
  • Blood loss
  • Pituitary gland or hypothalamus problems
  • Steroid medicines (such as Dexamethasone and Prednisone)

Check below adrenal glands conditions:

  • Addison’s disease (primary adrenal insufficiency) – A rare autoimmune condition that provokes a decreased production of cortisol and aldosterone hormones.
  • Cushing’s syndrome – A condition in which the adrenal glands produce an increased amount of cortisol. The main causes of this syndrome are medicines and tumors.
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia – This is a disease an individual is born with. People with congenital adrenal hyperplasia have a lack of enzymes that these glands need to produce hormones.
  • Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – This disease is usually diagnosed in women and people assigned to female at birth (AFAB) when develop excessive hair growth. The main cause of women’s hirsutism is increased levels of androgen hormone.
  • Primary aldosteronism (Conn’s syndrome) – This health condition occurs when the glands produce an increased amount of aldosterone.
  • Massive bilateral adrenal hemorrhage (Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome) – This condition is caused by bleeding into the gland and leads to adrenal gland failure. Mostly, it is associated with sepsis.


Usually, the symptoms of adrenal gland problems are different among people because it depends on the hormones that are negatively affected. Check below some examples:

  • Body’s defense (immune system) symptoms – Sickness or infections
  • Metabolism symptoms – Weight changes (gain or loss), fatigue (extreme tiredness), frequent high blood sugar or low blood sugar, weakness, and others
  • Blood pressure symptoms – Hypertension or hypotension
  • Sexual characteristics symptoms – Facial hair growth, balding, acne, deeper voice, and others.


Healthcare professionals to diagnose adrenal gland conditions commonly perform blood and urine tests to check adrenal hormone levels. In case there is an abnormal level, they can also perform CT (computed tomography) scans and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). Additionally, your doctor may direct you to an endocrinologist who is a specialist in hormones and endocrine system conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I see my healthcare professional about my adrenal glands?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, you should visit a doctor. However, many diseases can provoke these symptoms, it may be an adrenal gland problem. Consult with your physician for more details.

What are the symptoms of adrenal gland problems?

  • Upper body obesity (including round face and neck and thinning arms and legs)
  • Skin problems (such as acne)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Muscle and bone weakness
  • High blood sugars
  • Mental disorders (including mood swings, depression, irritability, and others)

What happens when the adrenal glands if not functioning correctly?

It means that the pituitary gland does not produce enough ACTH hormone. As a result, it leads to decreased cortisol levels. Usually, mild symptoms can be noticed when a person is physically stressed. They can also experience weakness, fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. Ask your healthcare provider if you have any other questions.

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