The adrenal glands are located in the kidneys and produce essential hormones such as adrenaline, corticosteroids (cortisone-like hormones) and androgens (make hormones like testosterone). Any overproduction or underproduction of these hormones can lead to serious illness. When the subject of adrenal gland disorders are discussed you most often hear about underactive adrenal glands, also known as “adrenal fatigue.” Rarely, do you hear much about overactive adrenals, which is when the adrenal glands overproduce these hormones.
The cause of the adrenal glands overproducing these hormones can be caused by changes within the glands themselves or an overstimulation by the pituitary gland. Both the symptoms and treatment of overactive adrenals depend largely on which hormones are being overproduced, but symptoms may include:
- upper body obesity
- round or moon-shaped face
- increased fat around neck
- thinning arms and legs
- fragile, thin skin
- darkened pigmentation of the skin
- stretch marks on abdomen, thighs, buttocks, arms, and breasts
- bone and muscle weakness
- high blood sugar
- irritability and anxiety
- excessive hair growth in females
- irregular or stopped menstrual cycles in females
- reduced sex drive
- Thyroid imbalances
There are a wide range of tests that can be used to diagnose overactive adrenal glands. Urine testing is often utilized by your doctor to determine is corticosteroid levels are elevated. These urine tests usually involve testing urine for 24 consecutive hours to monitor hormone levels. X-rays and MRIs can show if abnormalities, such as growths or tumours, exist on or within the adrenal or pituitary glands themselves. Other tests may be used in order to stimulate hormone production, so that a physician may determine whether the overactivity is coming from the adrenal glands or pituitary glands.
As the symptoms and treatment vary greatly depending on which hormone is being overproduced it is recommended that you visit your doctor if you notice any of the above symptoms.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.