What is an Adrenal Adenoma?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

An adrenal adenoma is a benign, or non-cancerous, tumor of the adrenal gland, located just above the kidney. Some such adenomas, called non-functioning adrenal adenomas, do not secrete hormones, but others do. Depending upon the type of hormone secreted by the adenoma, the tumor can cause different medical problems in the patient.

Adrenal adenomas typically are discovered through CT scanning of the abdomen.
Adrenal adenomas typically are discovered through CT scanning of the abdomen.

Adrenal adenomas tend to have a genetic basis and usually only appear in adults. One's risk of developing one increases with age, and about 6% of patients over 60 have an adrenal adenoma. There is currently no known prevention for these growths. Most are discovered through computed-tomography (CT) or magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) scanning of the abdomen for unrelated reasons.

An adrenal gland on top of a kidney.
An adrenal gland on top of a kidney.

If an adrenal adenoma releases cortisol, the patient can develop Cushing's Syndrome, also known as hypercorticism or hyperadrenocorticism. Cushing's Syndrome is characterized by excess cortisol in the blood, and symptoms include excessive sweating, rapid weight gain, thinning of the skin and mucous membranes, and facial hair growth. Patients with Cushing's Syndrome characteristically gain weight in the torso and face, but not in the limbs, and develop pads of fat along the back of the neck and the collar bone, a symptom called buffalo hump. Cushing's Syndrome can also cause various skin disorders, heart disease, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, impaired wound healing, and osteoporosis. Psychological problems including insomnia, loss of libido, depression, anxiety, and psychosis can also result.

When an adrenal adenoma releases cortisol, a patient may develop Cushing's Syndrome.
When an adrenal adenoma releases cortisol, a patient may develop Cushing's Syndrome.

If an adrenal adenoma releases aldosterone, the patient can suffer from Conn's Syndrome, or primary aldosteronism. Conn's Syndome causes sodium retention and hypocalcaemia, or low calcium levels. Symptoms can include high blood pressure, muscle cramps and weakness, and headache. Finally, an adrenal adenoma may secrete androgens, leading to hyperandrogenism. Hyperandrogenism can cause excessive body hair growth, loss of hair growth on the scalp, a deepened voice, acne, obesity, infertility, and increased muscle mass. In women, it can also cause the uterus or breasts to shrink.

Cushing's Syndrome, which can occur if an adrenal adenoma releases cortisol, is characterized by excessive sweating and facial hair growth.
Cushing's Syndrome, which can occur if an adrenal adenoma releases cortisol, is characterized by excessive sweating and facial hair growth.

If an adrenal adenoma is functioning, or releasing hormones of any kind, the resulting symptoms can be treated through surgical removal of the adenoma, or adrenalectomy. Usually, the adenoma is small enough to be removed through laparoscopy, in which the tumor is extracted through very small incisions. Eighty percent of adrenal adenomas are non-functioning, and do not cause any harm to the patient.

Cushing's Syndrome can cause osteoporosis.
Cushing's Syndrome can cause osteoporosis.
The body's two adrenal glands -- part of the endocrine system -- release hormones that help regulate metabolism, physical development and stress.
The body's two adrenal glands -- part of the endocrine system -- release hormones that help regulate metabolism, physical development and stress.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments

anon1001040

How do they determine if an adrenal adenoma is releasing hormones of any kind?

anon985482

I have one too but am not planning to get it removed right now. I am still researching it.

Handycell

I was currently diagnosed with an adrenal adenoma that also has been releasing cortisol. It has been wreaking major havoc on my system. I started experiencing some serious weight gain about a month ago and I would wake up sweating profusely. I’m still relatively young to have one (I’m 45), but I’m wondering what the likelihood for relapse would be? I am getting surgery to have it removed in about a month and since it’s genetic, I’m wondering if I may continue to get these even after surgery. Anyone have one removed just to experience another one? Also, how long after surgery did you notice any weight loss or other symptoms go away? I’m just so tired of putting up with this!

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