The adrenal glands are orange-colored endocrine glands which are located on the top of both kidneys. The adrenal glands are triangular shaped and measure about one-half inch in height and 3 inches in length. Each gland consists of a medulla (the center of the gland) which is surrounded by thecortex. The medulla is responsible for producing epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline). The adrenal cortex produces other hormones necessary for fluid and electrolyte (salt) balance in the body such as cortisone and aldosterone. The adrenal cortex also makes sex hormones but this only becomes important if overproduction is present.
The adrenal glands are two glands that sit on top of your kidneys that are made up of two distinct parts.
- The adrenal cortex—the outer part of the gland—produces hormones that are vital to life, such as cortisol (which helps regulate metabolism and helps your body respond to stress) and aldosterone (which helps control blood pressure).
- The adrenal medulla—the inner part of the gland—produces nonessential (that is, you don’t need them to live) hormones, such as adrenaline (which helps your body react to stress).
- Addison’s disease: This rare disorder may affect anyone at any age. It develops when the adrenal cortex fails to produce enough cortisol and aldosterone. To learn more, read our article about Addison’s Disease.
- Adrenal cancer: Adrenal cancer is an aggressive cancer, but it’s very rare. Malignant adrenal tumors are rarely confined to the adrenal glands—they tend to spread to other organs and cause adverse changes within the body because of the excess hormones they produce. To learn more, read our article about adrenal cancer.
- Cushing’s syndrome: Cushing’s syndrome is an uncommon condition that is essentially the opposite of Addison’s disease. It is caused by overproduction of the hormone cortisol. There are a variety of causes of this disorder—a tumor in the adrenal gland or pituitary gland could be to blame. To learn more, read our article about Cushing’s syndrome.
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia: This genetic disorder is characterized by low levels of cortisol. It’s common for people with congenital adrenal hyperplasia to have additional hormone problems such as low levels of aldosterone (which maintains a balance of water and salt).