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Adrenal Tumors

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Tumors in the adrenal glands cause the following conditions:

Cushing’s Syndrome

This tumor-caused disease most frequently occurs in adults between the ages of 20 and 50. Caused by excess production of hydrocortisone (cortisol), the problem often lies not with the adrenal gland but with the pituitary gland in the brain. Should this gland develop a tumor, it will begin to produce excess amount of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) which influences growth in the adrenal glands and subsequent over-production of hormones. Pituitary dysfunction and tumors account for up to 85% of Cushing’s Syndrome cases.

Other causes of cortisol overproduction may be tumors within the adrenal gland itself although these tumors are rare. Symptoms associated with the disease include obesity, hypertension, diabetes, weakness, excessive body hair, and menstrual abnormalities and sexual dysfunction. These symptoms are also associated with excessive and/or long-term use of glucocorticosteroid hormones. Treatment of pituitary and adrenal tumors is usually surgical and depending on the character of the tumor. As might be suspected, adrenal surgery is followed by life-long hormone replacement therapies.

Conn’s Disease (hyperaldosteronism)

This extremely rare disease usually occurs in women. It may result from excessive growth (hyperplasia) in tissues of both adrenal glands or a benign tumor in a single gland. It leads to over-production of aldosterone, potassium loss and increased sodium retention in the kidneys.

Symptoms include moderate hypertension, constipation, muscle weakness, excessive urination, excessive thirst, headaches and personality changes. These do not necessarily appear in all individuals with the disorder. The prognosis is good when the disease is detected early. Surgery is indicated when the disease results from an adenoma (tumor). In some patients the disease may be managed by dietary sodium restriction therapy with diuretics that block aldosterone’s actions.

Pheochromocytoma

This rare disease stems from a tumor in the adrenal medulla leading to overproduction of adrenaline and noradrenaline. About 800 cases of this adrenal tumor are diagnosed per year in the U.S. Primary symptoms of this tumor disease include high blood pressure, headache, heart palpitations and excessive or inappropriate sweating.

Other, less common symptoms include nervousness, anxiety, tremor, paleness, nausea, weakness, chest or abdominal pains, fatigue and weight loss. Treatment usually begins with medication to control blood pressure and may be followed by surgery to remove the tumor.

Reviewed: 02/13

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