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Adrenal glands

2-minute read

The adrenal glands are two, triangle-shaped endocrine glands. One sits on top of each kidney. They form part of the body’s hormonal system. They produce several hormones that are involved in controlling your blood pressure, metabolism and your body’s response to stress.

What hormones do the adrenal glands make?

The adrenal glands mainly make adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone.

Adrenaline and noradrenaline are involved in your body’s stress (or ‘fight or flight’) response. They make your heart beat faster, send more blood to your muscles and more.

Cortisol does many things, including influencing your metabolism (how your body uses energy), changing blood sugar levels and slowing down the immune system.

Aldosterone plays a part in controlling your blood pressure.

illustration of the endocrine glands

The adrenal glands also make weak sex hormones that travel to the testes or ovaries where they are converted into testosterone or oestrogen.

Medical conditions related to the adrenal glands

Adrenal gland disorders are rare.

Cushing's syndrome is a condition where you have 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’ll have a poor appetite and lose weight, and you might also have abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is a condition 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 occurs where there is a tumour that makes excess aldosterone, leading to high blood pressure.

More information

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

Last reviewed: December 2016

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