Overactive adrenal glands

Definition - what is hyperactive adrenal gland?

Although the adrenal glands are very small organs, they play an important role in many body functions. On the one hand, they are the target of numerous hormones and, on the other hand, they produce a large number of hormones.

The adrenal glands consist of a cortex and the medulla. The adrenal cortex forms Mineral corticoids (e.g. aldosterone, which is important for the body's water balance), Glucocorticoids (e.g. cortisone) and Androgens (e.g. testosterone). The adrenal medulla produces adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Overproduction of these hormones leads to various characteristic changes in the various functions of the body. How many hormones are affected by an overproduction varies and depends on the cause. Overactive adrenal gland is a serious condition because of its multiple effects.

In order to understand the following clinical pictures, it is important that you deal with the function and the hormones produced by the adrenal glands. Read the articles under:

  • Function of the adrenal gland
  • Adrenal hormones

Causes of overactive adrenal glands

One possible cause is adrenal hyperplasia. This is an enlargement of the adrenal tissue. This is usually associated with hyperfunction of the affected tissue. Adrenal hyperplasia can be congenital due to various gene mutations.

An example of a congenital disorder associated with an overactive adrenal gland is the adrenogenital syndrome.

Benign and malignant tumors are a common cause of altered adrenal function.

Since the adrenal glands are strongly influenced by the pituitary gland, an overactive pituitary gland can lead to an overactive adrenal gland. Overactive pituitary gland is usually caused by tumors.

In addition, some drugs can lead to an overactive adrenal gland.

As already mentioned, a pituitary tumor can also be behind an overactive condition. This is a serious condition. Use the following article to make sure that no tumor is responsible for your overactive adrenal glands: These symptoms suggest a pituitary tumor

Stress as a cause of an overactive adrenal gland

Stress leads directly to the release of cortisol and adrenaline. After the stressful situation, the cortisol and adrenaline levels drop and normalize. However, with long-term stress, these levels remain high and settle at an unhealthy high level. The adrenal glands produce more cortisol. In the long run, the increased cortisol level leads to various health risks.

The permanent release of cortisol and adrenaline triggers different mechanisms in the body. Find out more about the effects these have on the organism on the following articles:

  • Effects of cortisone
  • What is the effect of adrenaline on the body?

Diagnosis of overactive adrenal glands

First of all, a detailed discussion with the doctor and a measurement of various blood values ​​and hormone levels should take place. Depending on the result and suspicion, further examinations must then follow.

If a tumor is suspected, an imaging test must be performed to identify the possible tumor as well as its size and location. An MRI would be suitable for this.

I recognize an overactive adrenal gland from these symptoms

When there is a change in the sex hormone balance, i.e. an overproduction of androgens, as is the case with andrenogenital syndrome, women experience striking symptoms.

On the one hand, menstrual cycle disorders can arise. Unfortunately, too many androgens in the body also lead to increased hairiness (hirsutism) and acne.

An increased cortisol production, as it is mainly caused by tumors of the pituitary gland, causes a classic clinical picture, the so-called Cushing's syndrome. Cushing's syndrome is characterized by an increase in fat - primarily on the abdomen, a red, round face, stretch marks, blemishes, and paper-like, thin skin. In addition, there is muscle and bone weakness, high blood pressure, an increased susceptibility to infections and menstrual disorders in women.

An increased production of the mineral corticoids, especially the aldosterone, leads to an increased blood pressure, which is very difficult to control with medication. Furthermore, it can lead to a decreased concentration of potassium.

An overproduction of adrenaline and noradrenaline, as occurs in pheochromocytoma, a tumor, leads to very high blood pressure, sweating, headaches and an increased pulse.

If the adrenal gland is overactive due to stress and has consistently high cortisol levels, the symptoms are usually not quite as pronounced as with other causes. The health risks become noticeable over time, however. Health risks include high blood sugar levels, difficulty sleeping, weight gain (especially an increase in abdominal fat), high blood pressure and fatigue.

Depending on the hormonal balance that is impaired, different clinical pictures arise. Adding to the linked diseases in the text above, more information can be found at:

  • Pheochromocytoma and hypertension
  • These are the typical symptoms of Cushing's syndrome
  • What is the Cushing Test?

Treatment of hyperactive adrenal glands

Treatment for overactive adrenal glands depends on the cause. In the case of a congenital cause, such as androgenital syndrome, therapy must be carried out with the help of medication. Those affected receive oral contraceptives with anti-androgenic active ingredients, such as the pill, against the excess of androgens (e.g. testosterone).

In Cushing's syndrome, which is caused by a tumor, it must be surgically removed. In some cases, the tumor tissue must also be irradiated. Overactive adrenal glands can be caused by other different tumors. All of these tumors usually need to be surgically removed for healing. In some cases, the entire adrenal gland needs to be removed.

If the adrenal gland is overactive due to stress, the everyday life of the person affected must be restructured so that the stress factors are reduced and sufficient recovery phases are integrated. In some cases it is also advisable to see a psychologist.

If the overactive adrenal gland is caused by medication, the medication must be changed and adapted.

In addition to contraception, the pill is also used in numerous other areas of application. This includes the treatment of androgenital syndrome. However, it is important to be aware of the side effects. You can find out about this under. Side effects of the pill

What are the long-term consequences of an overactive adrenal gland?

In some cases, there are no long-term consequences after therapy. The hormone levels will return to their actual level after a while.

In some cases, however, life-long medication is unavoidable. A perfect adjustment of the hormone levels via medication is not easy, however. It takes a lot of patience and has to be adjusted again and again.

The course of an overactive adrenal gland

The course of the disease varies greatly from person to person due to the various causes.

If the adrenal gland is overactive as a result of stress, a certain amount of patience and self-discipline is required in order to effectively change one's lifestyle and thus also one's stress level. Setbacks can easily occur here.

In the case of tumor-related adrenal hyperfunction, there is a risk of recurrence, a recurrence of the tumor, after successful treatment.

Duration and prognosis of an overactive adrenal gland

The duration of an overactive adrenal gland depends heavily on the cause. However, patience is necessary in any case until everything has settled itself again.

The prognosis for an overactive adrenal gland is generally relatively good.

The various tumors can also be treated relatively well. In a few cases, however, the tumor cannot be treated and the disease is fatal.

Recommendation from the editor

Further information on the subject can be found at:

  • What is an adrenal gland?
  • What are the consequences of adrenal inflammation?
  • Secondary adrenal insufficiency - what's behind it?
  • What is the function of the adrenal gland?
  • Endocrinology - Which hormonal diseases are there?