The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. They produce hormones that control blood pressure, sodium and potassium levels, the immune system, and the body's response to stress and illness. An excess or deficiency of these hormones can lead to conditions like Addison's disease, Cushing's syndrome or pheochromocytoma.
Addison's disease is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the adrenal glands. As a result, they do not make enough cortisol and aldosterone, the two main adrenal hormones. Symptoms can include fatigue, weight loss, darkened skin, low blood pressure, low sodium levels and high potassium levels. Some people may not realize they have Addison's disease until they become severely ill and experience a sudden worsening of their symptoms, called an adrenal crisis. Addison's disease can be diagnosed through a series of blood tests. Treatment usually involves cortisol and aldosterone replacement through medication pills. In severe cases, it may be necessary to use intravenous cortisol.
Cushing's syndrome occurs when there is too much cortisol. It can be caused by brain or adrenal tumors, but is also seen in patients who have taken high doses of prednisone or other steroids for a long time. Symptoms can include weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, purple stretch marks and "fat pads" at the upper back and shoulder areas. Cushing's syndrome is diagnosed through a combination of blood and urine tests. Treatment depends on the individual cause.
Pheochromocytoma is a rare condition where the body makes too much "adrenaline", due to an adrenal tumor. Symptoms include episodes of headache, sweating, palpitations and high blood pressure. Diagnosis usually involves blood and urine testing. Treatment includes a combination of blood pressure medications and surgery.