Getting to Know the Adrenal Glands

By: Urology Care Foundation | Posted on: 23 Oct 2019

What is an Adrenal Gland?

The adrenal glands are found above each kidney. They are triangle-shaped, and measure about half an inch in height and 3 inches in length. Each adrenal gland has 2 layers.

These two layers include:

  • The adrenal medulla (inner part).
  • The adrenal cortex (outer part).

The adrenal glands control many processes in the body. Their job is to keep the body in balance by making various hormones that are critical for maintaining good health.

Adrenal glands are hormones that do many important things. For example, they help regulate fluid and salt levels in the body that affect blood volume and blood pressure. They also help the body react to stress and change.

They cause a faster heart rate and boost other systems that help you to react quickly with a burst of energy when needed. Problems in the cortex or the medulla, then, can result in high blood pressure.

The medulla of the adrenal gland secretes hormones such as adrenaline (or epinephrine) and noradrenaline (or norepinephrine). These hormones manage the body's reaction to stress and affect things like:

  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate
  • Sweating

The cortex of the adrenal gland secretes steroid hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol specifically helps the body break down blood sugar and react to stress and change. In addition the cortex controls things like:

  • Blood pressure
  • Salt levels
  • Potassium levels
  • Metabolism
  • Sex hormones

Adrenal Gland Cancer

While benign (non-cancerous) tumors in the adrenal gland are very common, cancers in or around this gland are very rare. They are found in only 1 or 3 per 1 million people. These tumors can give off too much cortisol or other hormones.

A tumor can grow large without causing any symptoms at all. In about half of people with adrenal cancer, symptoms are based on the extra hormones released by the tumor. In the other half, symptoms such as pain can occur if the tumor presses on nearby organs.

Adrenal Gland Podcast

To learn more about the adrenal gland make sure to listen to Episode No. 82 of the Urology Care Podcast. This episode called Adrenal Gland 101 is an interview with Dr. Ben Ristau about the adrenal gland. Dr. Ristau is a urologist with UConn Health in Farmington, Conn. You can listen to the podcast by accessing the embedded podcast player below:

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