The majority of adrenal adenomas are "nonfunctioning", which means they do not produce hormones
and usually do not cause any symptoms. They are often found incidentally during imaging
studies of the abdomen, in which case they are referred to as adrenal incidentalomas. However, some can become "functioning" or "active" and secrete excess hormones. Depending on the type of hormone released, adrenal tumors
can cause a variety of conditions, including Cushing's syndrome
, primary aldosteronism
, or much less commonly, virilization
, also called hypercortisolism (having abnormally high levels of cortisol), is caused by adrenal adenomas that release excess levels of the hormone cortisol. Common symptoms of Cushing's syndrome can include upper body obesity; severe fatigue and muscle weakness; high blood pressure
; backache; high blood sugar; easy bruising; and bluish-red stretch marks on the skin. Affected women may have increased growth of facial and body hair, and menstrual periods may become irregular or stop completely.
Mild hypercortisolism without any obvious symptoms, called subclinical Cushing's syndrome, is common in people with an adrenal incidentaloma, although glucose intolerance and hypertension may be present in these cases.
Primary aldosteronism (also called Conn syndrome) is a condition in which the adrenal gland produces too much of the hormone aldosterone. This hormone is responsible for balancing the levels of sodium and potassium in the blood. Symptoms of this condition may include high blood pressure, fatigue, headache, muscle weakness, numbness and paralysis that comes and goes.
Benign cortisol-secreting adenomas can also produce small amounts of androgens (steroid hormones, such as testosterone), although androgen levels in the blood are usually not elevated.
Excess amounts of androgens can cause an increase in masculine characteristics (virilization) such as increased facial and body hair (hirsutism); deepening of the voice; increased muscularity; and other characteristics.
Last updated: 11/24/2014
Adrenal tumors that secrete testosterone are rare, but they have been reported in the literature. An adrenal gland that produces excess androgens (testosterone and similar hormones) can cause virilization
, which is the development of exaggerated male characteristics. Signs and symptoms of virilization may include excess facial and body hair (hirsutism); baldness; acne; deepening of the voice; increased muscularity; and an increased sex drive.
In women it can cause menstruation to stop (amenorrhea).
In young boys, increased testosterone secretion can cause precocious puberty
(when puberty happens earlier than normal).
Last updated: 11/26/2014
We hope this information is helpful. We strongly recommend you discuss this information with your doctor. If you still have questions, please
GARD Information Specialist
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