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What is Adrenal Gland? Adrenal Gland Diseases

Ever experienced an adrenaline rush? The glands responsible for producing the hormone which enables you to cope with situations of extreme stress, danger or excitement are known as adrenal glands. These small glands not only produce adrenaline, but several other hormones as well which are important for different functions of our body. Other than adrenaline and noradrenalin, the main class of hormones produced by adrenal glands is corticosteroid hormones.

A pair of adrenal glands is located at the top of the kidneys. Due to their location, adrenal glands are also known as suprarenal glands. The right adrenal gland is shaped like a triangle while the left gland exists in a semi-lunar shape. Each gland consists of two main parts. The outermost part is called the cortex which is responsible for the secretion of corticosteroid hormones. On the other hand, the inner part is known as the medulla which produces adrenaline and noradrenalin.

Adrenal Glands

Adrenal glands are stimulated to produce corticosteroids by the pituitary gland which in turn is stimulated by the hypothalamus. In this way, the secretion of hormones by the adrenal glands is controlled by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus.

Interesting Facts

  • Adrenal glands are very small, having a length of only 3 inches and a height of hardly half an inch.
  • Each of the adrenal glands weighs only around 4 grams.
  • Vitamin C is very important for the proper functioning of adrenal glands as it is vital for the synthesis of adrenocorticol steroid hormones.
  • Bartholomeus Eustachius was the first scientist to fully describe adrenal glands along with diagrams.
  • The medulla comprises of only 10% of the total area of each adrenal gland.
  • The amount of hormones released by adrenal glands is never constant. Instead, it fluctuates depending on environmental conditions as well as the state of the body.

Diseases

Adrenal diseases or disorders interfere with the proper functioning of adrenal glands. Here are some of the most common diseases of adrenal glands.

Addison's Disease

Addison's disease is marked by an insufficient production of cortisol and aldosteron. As a result, an individual suffers from weakness of the muscles and constant fatigue. There is a loss of appetite leading to weight loss. Moreover, nausea, vomiting and a fall in blood pressure are also some of the common symptoms of Addison’s disease. It can be treated with hormone replacement therapy.

Cushing's Disease

As opposed to Addison's disease, Cushing's disease is caused by excessive production of cortisol. The high hormone levels may be due to an intake of steroid drugs or the development of a tumor on the adrenal glands. Cushing's disease leads to disfiguration of the body with arms and legs being skinny, while the rest of the body swollen up. It can be cured by removing the tumor surgically or discontinuing the use of steroid drugs.

Hyperaldosteronism

Cancer of the adrenal glands can lead to over-production of aldosteron, a condition termed as hyperadlosteronism. An individual experiences fatigue and suffers from several other symptoms including headache, high blood pressure, weakness of the muscles and, in extreme cases, paralysis.

Disorders of the adrenal glands can be prevented by avoiding the excessive use of steroid drugs. Moreover, a frequent examination of the adrenal glands through scans should be conducted in order to detect any development of cancer and tumors at an early stage.