Complications and damage to the adrenal gland can lead to its dysfunction. These disorders affect the functioning of the organ which also impacts the production of some hormones. The disturbance in the production of these hormones ultimately affects the body and in some cases can cause life-long health issues.
These glands are located above the kidneys and are shaped triangularly. These are also called supradrenal glands.
The hormones produced by this organ function in maintaining the proper blood pressure level, regulating metabolism processes and balancing stress levels in the body. An imbalanced production of any of the chemicals can cause supradrenal dysfunction.
What are the hormones produced by the adrenal gland?
The supraadrenal gland produces several essential hormones, one of them is cortisol. This protein plays the role of maintaining stress levels in the body as well as regulating the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It also regulates the gluconeogenesis process of the kidney while also inhibiting the functioning of insulin.
Another vital hormone produced by the gland is adrenaline. This causes the fight or flight response of the body in case of an emergency. The dilation of air passages to allow for higher oxygen transport to the muscles is performed by adrenaline.
This body part also produces aldosterone which maintains the water and salt balance in the body. This helps in maintaining blood pressure.
If the functioning of any of these falters then it can lead to serious health conditions.
What are the various adrenal dysfunctions?
Depending on which hormone production has been disrupted adrenal disorders can be of various types.
- Addison’s disease: This is caused when the organ does not produce enough cortisol. The low production of cortisol leads to high stress and anxiety which can even lead to serious mental disorders.
- Cushing’s syndrome: The accumulation and excess production of cortisol can cause a condition called Cushing’s syndrome. This can cause weight gain and rounding of your face. Over time stretch marks will appear and it might even cause bruises.
- Hyperaldosteronism: This condition occurs when the body produces excess aldosterone. This causes high blood pressure and excessive loss of potassium which can be fatal if left untreated.
- Adrenal gland suppression: Intake of steroids or unprescribed drugs can suppress the functioning of the gland. This can cause lower production of cortisol which can have similar consequences to Addison’s disease. The only difference is that the cause is external in this case.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia: This is yet another condition in which the production of cortisol is disturbed. The elevated production of ACTH is an X-linked disease and affects the synthesis of male hormones.
While most of these disorders can happen to anyone irrespective of their gender or age, disorders like Cushing’s syndrome are more prevalent among females than males. Similarly, Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is more common in males than in females.
What causes adrenal dysfunction?
Any complication in the suprarenal gland can lead to its dysfunction. A problem in this body part means up or down-regulation of hormones. However, the problems can be caused due to several reasons.
Some disorders like CDH can be caused by genetic inheritance while others occur during the lifetime of the person. Excessive intake of drugs or steroids or even higher susceptibility to damage can also cause this health issue.
Complications in the pituitary gland can also cause dysfunction in the system since the pituitary is a gland that regulates the hormone synthesis of several other organs. Tumours or cysts in the cortex or tissue can also be a cause.
What is meant by adrenal insufficiency?
Adrenal insufficiency is a condition in which the ability of the suprarenal gland to produce cortisol or aldosterone is hampered. It generally occurs if the outer covering of the organ, called the adrenal cortex is damaged.
The cause of the damage is most of the time autoimmune responses that target the cortex and damage the tissue. This causes lower production of aldosterone or cortisol. Other causes can be tuberculosis or tumours. This type of insufficiency is called primary insufficiency.
Secondary insufficiency occurs when the production of ACTH or adrenocorticotropin by the pituitary gland is disrupted. This protein is responsible for the regulation of cortisol. Hence, lower or insufficient production of ACTH leads to lower secretion of cortisol.
What are the symptoms of adrenal dysfunction?
Supradrenal disorders affect the essential metabolism and functioning of the body. If the production of cortisol is affected it will impact the stress level of the body and if the aldosterone production is affected it will severely impact the blood pressure.
Some symptoms of these dysfunctions include:
- Obesity due to improper metabolism and breakdown of lipids
- Excessing rounding of the face
- Leaning of the limbs
- Skins problems like acne and rashes
- Bruising and stretching of the skin due to weight gain
- Weakening of the bones
- Muscle fatigue and exertion
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Excessive loss of potassium
How can adrenal dysfunction be diagnosed?
To determine if you have supradrenal disorders, your doctor might ask for your symptoms. This is the primary diagnosis stage. To further confirm your condition, the doctor might conduct blood and urine tests to analyse the hormone levels in your blood and urine.
If your doctor suspects a tumour then he might even ask for imaging tests like MRIs and CT scans. For further treatment and diagnosis, it is best to visit an endocrinologist. An endocrinologist is a person who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of the endocrine system.
How can adrenal dysfunction be treated?
However, if the disorder has been caused by a tumour or cyst a clinical surgery might be required. Early diagnosis and medical treatment are the best for treating this disorder. If left untreated, the problem can grow further to become lethal.
The supradrenal disorder can be of many types and the diagnosis for each of the conditions differ. In such a scenario it is best to consult experts for diagnostic and treatment purposes.
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