What is Adrenal Disease?

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  • Written By: Amy Hunter
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
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  • Last Modified Date: 06 March 2020
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Addison’s disease and Cushing’s Syndrome are two common diseases of the adrenal glands. Adrenal disease can cause a number of different symptoms, depending on which disease is affecting the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys, and their function is to manufacture different hormones. Problems with the adrenal glands may influence hormone levels throughout the body.

Addison’s disease is otherwise known as adrenal insufficiency. The adrenal gland fails to function properly, which leaves the body deficient in the hormone, cortisol. The adrenal gland may work improperly due to damage or disease. This adrenal disease can lead to weakness, nausea, lack of appetite and low blood pressure. The body of someone affected by Addison’s disease may also develop areas of hyper-pigmentation.

Cortisol has many important functions in the body, so Addison’s disease can lead to widespread health issues. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, because it helps the body react appropriately in stressful situations. Cortisol helps reduce the body’s inflammation response to stress, helps maintain healthy blood pressure, and counteracts the effects of insulin during the digestive process.


Cushing’s Syndrome is the other type of adrenal disease. It has the opposite effect on the body as Addison’s disease. While Addison’s disease is the underproduction of cortisol, Cushing’s Syndrome results in the overproduction cortisol. There are several ways that someone can develop Cushing’s Syndrome. Someone who takes steroid hormones for an extended period of time can develop the disorder as a result. Steroid hormones, such as hydrocortisone and prednisone, are typically used to treat inflammatory illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Despite the risks, steroid hormones are very useful in treating many ailments.

Cushing’s Syndrome can also develop as a result of a tumor on the pituitary gland. A tumor on this gland can lead to the overproduction of the hormone ACTH. This hormone directs the adrenal glands to grow and overproduce hormones. Tumors in areas other than the pituitary can also lead to Cushing’s Syndrome. There are several organs in the body, such as the lungs and pancreas, which produce ACTH. A tumor, whether it is benign or malignant, on one of these organs can lead to the development of the adrenal disease Cushing’s Syndrome.

Regardless of how one develops Cushing’s Syndrome, the symptoms are the same. People who suffer from Cushing’s typically gain weight in their midsection and develop a round face. Fatigue and weakness, along with high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar, are all symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome. Both men and women may experience gender-specific problems. Women may experience irregular or absent menstrual cycles, or excessive hair growth, while men may experience a lack of sexual desire and infertility.



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