Adrenal Disorders - Causes, Symptoms And TreatmentThe adrenal glands are a pair of triangular-shaped organs that rest on top of the kidneys. Each gland normally weighs about 5 grams (slightly less than 1/5 ounce) and is composed of two parts. The cortex, or outer section, is responsible for the production of the hormones cortisone, cortisol, aldosterone, androstenedione, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). The medulla; or central section, secretes another hormone, adrenaline (also called epinephrine), and norepinephrine, which functions as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter
Adrenaline, cortisol, DHEA, and norepinephrine are the body's four major stress hormones. The highest levels of these hormone are released in the morning and the lowest at night. Cortisol is also involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and the regulation of blood sugar. Aldosterone helps to maintain electrolyte (salt) and water balance in the body. Androstenedione and DHEA are androgens, hormones that are similar to-and that can be converted intotestosterone. Adrenaline speeds up the rate of metabolism and produces other physiologic changes designed to help the body cope with danger. It is produced when the body is under stress. Under circumstances of extreme stress, large amounts of cortisol are released, which can lead to a host of health problems.
Reduced adrenal function may be indicated by the following: weakness, lethargy, dizziness, headaches, memory problems, food cravings, allergies, and blood sugar disorders. If the adrenal cortex is seriously under active, a rare condition called Addison's disease may develop.
Symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, dizziness or fainting, low blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, depression, craving for salty foods, moodiness, a decrease in the amount of body hair, and an inability to cope with stress. The individual may also constantly complain about feeling cold. Discoloration and darkening of the skin is common in people with Addison's disease; discoloration of knees, elbows, scars, skin folds, and creases in the palms are more noticeable when these body parts are exposed to the sun. The mouth, the vagina, and freckles may appear darker. This disease is also characterized by the development of bands of pigment running the length of the nails and by darkening of the hair.
The most common type of this disorder is autoimmune Addison's disease. This comes about when the immune system mistakenly attacks the tissue of the adrenal glands, destroying them. It may be associated with other autoimmune diseases that affect other endocrine glands. The most common of these is hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid). Addison's disease that coexists with hypothyroidism is known as Schmidt's syndrome. Less commonly, Addison's disease occurs together with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, another autoimmune disease, or insufficiencies of the parathyroid glands and/ or gonads, or with pernicious anemia. Addison's disease is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment. Fortunately, people with Addison's disease can have a normal life expectancy if they stay on the proper medication as prescribed by an endocrinologist (a specialist in hormonal diseases).
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