There are two adrenal glands, one situated above each kidney. Hormones produced by the adrenal glands are vital in controlling body chemistry. If adrenal hormone levels become imbalanced, the effects tend to be widespread throughout the body and are often serious, even life-threatening. However, these disorders are rare.
Adrenal gland disorders may involve either the over- or underproduction of adrenal hormones. This section first discusses disorders in which adrenal hormones are overproduced. The overproduction of adrenal hormones is most commonly due to the presence of an adrenal tumour. These tumours are usually noncancerous and can often be removed by means of surgery.
The final article discusses Addison’s disease, a disorder in which the adrenal gland underproduces hormones. The lack of adrenal hormones is frequently caused by an autoimmune disorder that damages the gland. Addison’s disease can be treated successfully with synthetic hormones.
Adrenal disorders are sometimes caused by changes in the levels of hormones that are produced by the pituitary gland (see Pituitary gland disorders). There is also an extremely rare adrenal disorder that is caused by a genetic defect (see Congenital adrenal hyperplasia). Disorders that are due to the abnormal production of sex hormones by the adrenal glands are described elsewhere in the guide (see Male hormonal disorders, and Menstrual, menopausal, and hormonal problems).
For more information about the structure and function of the adrenal glands, see Hormones and Metabolism.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.