What are the adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands are 2 triangle-shaped endocrine glands. One sits on top of each kidney. They form part of the body’s hormonal system.
What do the adrenal glands do?
The adrenal glands produce several hormones that are involved in controlling blood pressure, metabolism and the body’s response to stress.
What hormones do the adrenal glands make?
The adrenal glands mainly make the hormones adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone.
Adrenaline and noradrenaline are involved in the body’s stress (or ‘fight or flight’) response. They make the heart beat faster, send more blood to muscles and cause other changes in the body that prepare it for fight or flight.
Cortisol does many things, including influencing metabolism (how the body uses energy), changing blood sugar levels and slowing down the immune system.
Aldosterone plays a part in controlling blood pressure.
The adrenal glands also make weak sex hormones that travel to the testes or ovaries where they are converted into testosterone or oestrogen.
What medical conditions are related to the adrenal glands?
Adrenal gland disorders are rare.
Cushing's syndrome is a condition where the body has too much cortisol. This causes a variety of problems, such as weight gain, a flushed face, bruising and diabetes. Cushing's syndrome is usually caused by taking steroid medication for a long time, but it can sometimes be caused by a tumour of the adrenal gland.
Addison’s disease is caused by the adrenal glands failing to make enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. If you have Addison’s disease, you will have a poor appetite and lose weight. You might also have fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, depression, cravings, irregular menstruation or low blood pressure.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is an inherited group of conditions in which the adrenal glands produce excess male sex hormones. Symptoms can include early puberty in boys and male features in girls.
Conn’s syndrome, also known as primary hyperaldosteronism, is a condition in which one or both adrenal glands produce more of the hormone aldosterone than normal, leading to high blood pressure.
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Last reviewed: November 2020