The adrenal glands are two small triangle-shaped glands in the upper abdomen. One gland is located on top of each kidney.
Each adrenal gland is about the size of the top part of the thumb. The outer part of the gland is called the cortex. It produces steroid hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone, and hormones that can be changed into testosterone. The inner part of the gland is called the medulla. It produces epinephrine and norepinephrine. These hormones are also called adrenaline and noradrenaline.
When the glands produce more or less hormones than normal, you can become sick. This might happen at birth or later in life.
The adrenal glands can be affected by many diseases, such as autoimmune disorders, infections, tumors, and bleeding. Some are permanent and some go away over time. Medicines can also affect the adrenal glands.
The pituitary, a small gland at the bottom of the brain, releases a hormone called ACTH that stimulates the adrenal cortex to make its hormones. Pituitary diseases can lead to problems with adrenal function.
Conditions related to adrenal gland problems include:
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Newell-Price JDC, Auchus RJ. The adrenal cortex. In: Melmed S, Auchus, RJ, Goldfine AB, Koenig RJ, Rosen CJ, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 15.
Standring S. Suprarenal (adrenal) gland. In: Standring S, ed. Gray's Anatomy. 42nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 70.
Reviewed By: Sandeep K. Dhaliwal, MD, board-certified in Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, Springfield, VA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.