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Overactive Adrenal Glands

What are overactive adrenal glands?

Your adrenal glands are found just above each kidney. They make certain types of hormones. If they make too much of these hormones, they are called overactive.

What causes overactive adrenal glands?

Your adrenal glands may become overactive if you take certain steroid medicine for a long time. They can also become too active if your pituitary gland makes too much adrenocorticotropin hormone.

What are the symptoms of overactive adrenal glands?

Symptoms depend on which hormones are being overproduced:

  • Androgenic steroids (androgen hormones). These hormones include testosterone.Too much of them can lead to strong male traits in both men and women. These may include hairiness of the face and body, baldness, acne, deeper voice, and more muscle mass.
  • Corticosteroids. Too many corticosteroids can lead to Cushing's syndrome (see below).
  • Aldosterone. High blood pressure is a symptom of too much aldosterone. A lot of this hormone can also cause low levels of potassium. That may result in weakness, muscle aches, spasms, and sometimes paralysis.

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

How are overactive adrenal glands diagnosed?

Your health care provider will ask about your past health. You will also need an exam. Other procedures that may help with a diagnosis include:

  • Blood and urine tests to measure levels of hormones
  • Imaging tests, such as CT scan, ultrasound, or X-ray

How are overactive adrenal glands treated?

Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:

  • How old you are
  • Your overall health and past health
  • How sick you are
  • How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • How long the condition is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

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

When should I call my health care provider?

Tell your health care provider if your symptoms return or get worse. Also let him or her know if you have new symptoms.

Key points about overactive adrenal glands

  • Your adrenal glands are found just above each kidney. They make certain types of hormones. If they 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.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 2/23/2014
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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