Overactive adrenal glands occur when the body has been exposed to excess amounts of the hormone cortisol for an extended period of time. Also called Cushing's syndrome, overactive adrenal glands are caused by using oral corticosteroid medicines or the body making too much cortisol. This can cause a tumour of the pituitary gland, lung, pancreas, thyroid or thymus gland. Symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, muscle weakness, depression, and irregular or missed menstrual cycles. Overactive adrenal glands can also cause a decreased libido. Treatment of overactive adrenal gland can get cortisol production back to normal. The sooner treatment begins, the better the outcome.
Get diagnosed. See your doctor if you aren't feeling well or have symptoms of overactive adrenal glands. Tests of the urine, saliva and blood will check hormone levels. A CAT scan or MRI will check your pituitary and adrenal glands for abnormalities.
Lower corticosteroids use. Taking corticosteroid medicines long-term can cause overactive adrenal glands. If your doctor discovers this to be the cause of your condition, he may lower your dosage to control symptoms. Do not lower the dosage of corticosteroids on your own because it can lead to insufficient cortisol levels.
Consider surgery. If an overactive adrenal gland is caused by a tumour, your doctor may recommend having it surgically removed. A surgeon will remove pituitary tumours by going through the nose, and tumours in the lungs, pancreas or adrenal glands will be removed in a routine operation. Cortisol replacement medicines will be needed after surgery.
Use radiation therapy. It is given in small doses for six weeks or by stereotactic radiosurgery. In this procedure, also called gamma-knife radiation, radiation is given as one large dose which is delivered to the tumour. Radiation therapy is a treatment option for a patient whose pituitary tumour wasn't completely removed during surgery, or patients who aren't able to have surgical treatment.
Use medicine. Drug therapy may be used to control overproduction of cortisol. Medicines used include Nizoral, Lysodren and Metopirone. Some patients treating overactive adrenal glands with surgery may be given drug therapy to improve symptoms and reduce surgical risks. Hormone replacement medication is recommended for patients with insufficient hormone production.
- Complications of not treating overactive adrenal gland soon enough include high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney stones, bone loss, frequent infections and loss of muscle strength. You may also experience problems with the production of other hormones.