Overactive Adrenal Glands

What are overactive adrenal glands?

Your body has two adrenal glands. They are found on top of each kidney. The adrenal glands make certain types of hormones. If they make too much of (overproduce) these hormones, they are called overactive.

What causes overactive adrenal glands?

Your adrenal glands may start to make too many hormones on their own for unknown reasons. They can also become too active if your pituitary gland makes too much of the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropin). Or if tumors in other areas of your body make too much CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) or ACTH.

Some people who take high doses of steroid medicines for a long time will also show signs of extra adrenal hormone effect.

What are the symptoms of overactive adrenal glands?

Symptoms depend on which hormones are being overproduced:

  • Androgenic steroids (androgen hormones). These include hormones related to testosterone. Having too much of them can lead to strong male traits in both men and women. These may include extra hair growth on the face and body, baldness, acne, a deeper voice, and more muscle mass.
  • Cortisol. Too much cortisol can lead to Cushing syndrome. This disorder can also be caused by taking high levels of similar steroid hormones. Symptoms of Cushing condition include fragile skin that bruises easily, and pink or purple stretch marks. Upper body obesity, increased fat around the neck, and thin arms and legs are also common.
  • Aldosterone. Too much aldosterone can cause high blood pressure. It can also cause low levels of potassium. That may result in weakness, muscle aches, spasms, and sometimes paralysis.
  • Epinephrine or norepinephrine. Too much of these hormones leads to high blood pressure and sudden and severe headaches and anxiety symptoms.

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are overactive adrenal glands diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history. You will also need a physical exam. Your provider may also see if you have any signs of Cushing syndrome, a condition that can occur if your body makes too much cortisol hormone. People with this condition have symptoms that include easy bruising, muscle weakness, and red or purple stretch marks. Upper body obesity and thin arms and legs are also common.

Other tests that may help with a diagnosis include:

  • Blood and urine tests. These can measure hormone levels.
  • Imaging tests. These may include a CT scan, ultrasound, or X-ray.

How are overactive adrenal glands treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment depends on what is causing the overactive glands. You may need to have your adrenal glands removed. If external steroid use is the cause, you may need to slowly cut back or stop taking the steroid. You may also need to take medicine that blocks the production of certain hormones.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Tell your healthcare provider if your symptoms return or get worse. Also let your provider know if you have new symptoms.

Key points about overactive adrenal glands

  • Your two adrenal glands are found just above each kidney. They make certain types of hormones. If your adrenal glands make too much of these hormones, they are called overactive.
  • Symptoms depend on which hormones are being overproduced.
  • You may need to have blood and urine tests, and imaging tests such as a CT scan or ultrasound.
  • Treatment depends on the cause of the disease. It may include medicine or surgery.
Want More Information?

Cedars-Sinai has a range of comprehensive treatment options.

Looking for a Physician?

Choose a doctor and schedule an appointment.

Need Help?

(1-800-233-2771)

Available 24 Hours A Day