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Adrenal glands

2-minute read

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.

Illustration of the endocrine glands.
Illustration of the endocrine glands.

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.

More information

Learn more about the endocrine system and the different hormones released by the endocrine glands.

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Last reviewed: November 2020

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Adrenal Gland - Hormones Australia

The two adrenal glands sit above the kidneys and produce hormones that control the stress response, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, salt water balance and more.

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Pheochromocytoma is a rare tumor that forms in the adrenal medulla (the center of the adrenal gland). Paragangliomas form outside the adrenal gland.

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Addison's disease - Better Health Channel

Most cases of Addison's disease are caused by an autoimmune response that attacks and damages the adrenal glands over time.

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Pheochromocytoma is a rare tumour that forms in the adrenal medulla (the center of the adrenal gland).

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Rare Cancers Australia - Neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in nerve tissue of the adrenal gland, neck, chest, or spinal cord.

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Primary Aldosteronism - Hormones Australia

Primary aldosteronism is caused by too much of the hormone aldosterone, resulting in high blood pressure. Primary aldosterone is treated with medication, although sometimes surgery is needed.

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Cushing's syndrome - Better Health Channel

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Hormones – cortisol and corticosteroids - Better Health Channel

Cortisol helps to maintain blood pressure, immune function and the body's anti-inflammatory processes.

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