The adrenal glands, also called suprarenal glands, are glands of the endocrine system which - as the name implies - are located near the upper portion of each kidney. Each gland is divided into an outer cortex and an inner medulla. The adrenal cortex secretes the gonadocorticoids, or sex hormones, and various other substances such as aldosterone and glucocorticoids. The adrenal medulla, however, secretes two hormones, epinephrine (also called adrenaline) and norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline). The secretion of adrenaline by the adrenal is part of the "fight-or-flight" reaction that we have in response to being frightened. Hormone secretion is partially controlled by the pituitary gland (hypophysis) by means of hormonal messengers.
When adrenal glands contribute to hormonal disregulation, a tumour can be the cause. This can lead to metabolic disturbances with far-reaching consequences, irrespective of whether the tumour is benign or malignant. As is often the case, an endocrinological investigation presents a complex diagnostic and therapeutic challenge as illustrated in the following example:
Cushing's Syndrome is almost always caused by an excess of cortisol production in the adrenal glands.
This can either be caused indirectly by a hormonal disorder in the pituitary gland, or outside the pituitary in a benign or malignant tumour in the adrenal cortex itself. Cortisol excess can be the cause for osteoporosis, a tendency to gain weight (obesity), especially on the neck and upper back (buffalo hump), or increased hair growth, particularly noticeable in women. This is only one of many examples for the extremely complex regulating loops in the body. To determine the cause of the symptoms, it is often necessary to retrace a succession of different symptoms to eventually get to the root of the problem.