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Hypersecretory Adrenal Disease

By Ngozi Oguejiofo ; Updated August 14, 2017

Pheochromocytoma, hyperaldosteronism, virilization and Cushing's syndrome are diseases associated with hypersecretion of adrenal hormones. The adrenal gland produces hormones such as testosterone, cortisol and epinephrine. Adrenal diseases related to hyperfunction of the adrenal glands may be caused by factors that affect the glands themselves or the pituitary gland. Surgery and medications are treatment options for these diseases.


Hypersecretion or over-production of cortisol by the adrenal glands causes Cushing’s Syndrome. Hyperaldosteronism is the result of aldosterone over-production by the adrenal glands, while pheochromocytoma is associated with excessive production of catecholamines by the adrenal glands. Virilization occurs when the adrenal glands produce high amounts of androgens such as testosterone.

Possible Causes

Tumors in the adrenal glands may cause over-production of adrenal hormones. In fact, pheochromocytomas are catecholamine producing tumors typically located in the adrenal glands. According to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library, pheochromocytomas are common in people between 30 to 60 years of age. Enlargement of areas in the adrenal gland may also stimulate hypersecretion of hormones. When the body is exposed to excessive amounts of corticotropin--a pituitary hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to make cortisol--the adrenal glands over-produce cortisol.


Excess cortisol in the body can cause blood pressure to go up. It can also lead to high levels of blood glucose, as well as a change in the way fat is distributed around the body such that there is an increase in fat around the abdomen, upper back, neck and face, causing a round or "moon" face. In pheochromocytoma and hyperaldosteronism, the body’s blood pressure is high. Virilization causes exaggerated masculine features in women with symptoms that include a deeper voice and development of excessive body and facial hair.


Although excess corticotropin from the pituitary gland stimulates the adrenal gland to hypersecrete cortisol, this effect can also occur when corticotropin is produced by tumors outside the pituitary gland. According to the National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service, tumors in the lungs can produce corticotropin.


If tumors within or outside adrenal glands stimulate them to overproduce hormones, then the tumors are surgically removed. Radiation and chemotherapy can also be used to eliminate tumors that cause hypersecretory adrenal diseases. Medications that block or reduce hormone production are also treatment options for excessive hormone production by the adrenal gland, until more definite treatment such as surgery is performed.

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