There are several organs under the umbrella of urology that the Urology Associates of South Bend care for on a daily basis. Included among the kidneys, ureter, urethra, and male reproductive organs are the adrenal glands.
If you’re not entirely sure what adrenal glands are, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to find out everything you need to know about adrenal glands.
What Are Adrenal Glands?
Adrenal glands are two, triangular-shaped glands that sit atop each kidney. They each measure around 1.5 inches tall and 3 inches wide. They have two distinct parts:
- Adrenal cortex: This is the outer part of the gland that produces essential hormones. Among these hormones is cortisol which helps your body regulate metabolism and respond to stress.
- Adrenal medulla: This is the inner part of the gland that produces nonessential hormones such as adrenaline which helps your body react to stress (the fight or flight response).
What Do They Do?
The two parts of the adrenal glands have very different functions. The most distinct of which is the fact that the adrenal cortex secretes hormones that are required for life while the adrenal medulla produces hormones that are not. What exactly are these essential and nonessential hormones?
Adrenal cortex hormones
The hormones produced by the adrenal cortex are necessary to sustain life. One of the key hormones it secretes is cortisol which:
- controls the body’s use of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins
- regulates blood pressure
- increases blood sugar
- suppresses inflammation
- controls the sleep/wake cycle
- boosts energy in an stressful situation
Additionally, the adrenal cortex secretes the hormone aldosterone which helps to regulate electrolytes in the blood, as well as DHEA and androgenic steroids which are weak sex hormones secreted in small amounts.
Adrenal medulla hormones
The adrenal medulla produces hormones that aren’t vital for existence but they are certainly useful. They specialize in helping you to respond to stressful situations. The hormones produced are adrenaline and noradrenaline. They each have similar functions, specifically to assist your body in handling physically and emotionally straining situations. They increase your heart rate and blood flow to the brain and muscles, as well as relax airways. Additionally, they assist in metabolism and increase blood pressure in response to stress.
Disorders of the Adrenal Glands
When issues arise with adrenal glands, it is most commonly linked to the overproduction or underproduction of a certain hormone. This results in hormonal imbalances that could lead to a number of disorders. Here are the most common:
Addison’s Disease: While rare, Addison’s Disease can affect anyone at any age. It occurs when the adrenal cortex does not produce enough cortisol or aldosterone.
Adrenal Cancer: Also very rare, adrenal cancer can be a very aggressive cancer. Malignant tumors on the adrenal gland tend to spread to other organs and make a mess of your hormones.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia: This is a genetic disorder in which the adrenals do not produce enough cortisol. Often, those with congenital adrenal hyperplasia struggle with other hormone deficiencies.
Cushing’s syndrome: This uncommon condition results from overproduction of cortisol, in contrast to Addison’s disease. It can be caused by a benign tumor on the pituitary gland or elsewhere, or through the overuse of certain steroids.
How to Care for Them
These little organs that sit comfortably atop your kidneys are important and should be taken well care of. Thankfully, caring for your adrenal glands looks a lot like taking care of your body as a whole. Eat a well balanced diet. Take high quality supplements including vitamins B, C, and D, zinc, and magnesium. Prioritize regular sleep patterns. And work to reduce stress in your life.