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Overview of the Adrenal Glands

By

Ashley B. Grossman

, MD, University of Oxford; Fellow, Green-Templeton College

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2024
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A Close Look at the Adrenal Glands

A Close Look at the Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands are controlled in part by the brain. The hypothalamus, a small area of the brain involved in hormonal regulation, produces

  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)

  • Vasopressin (also known as antidiuretic hormone)

CRH and vasopressin trigger the pituitary gland to secrete corticotropin (also known as adrenocorticotropic hormone or ACTH). Vasopressin also stimulates the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids.

The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, regulated mostly by the kidneys, causes the adrenal glands to produce more or less aldosterone (see figure ).

The body controls the levels of corticosteroids according to need. The levels tend to be much higher in the early morning than later in the day. When the body is stressed, for example due to illness, the levels of corticosteroids increase dramatically.

The Adrenal Glands
VIDEO

Adrenal disorders

Disorders of the adrenal glands can involve the secretion of too little or too much hormone.

When too little hormone is secreted (undersecretion, also called adrenal insufficiency Adrenal Insufficiency In adrenal insufficiency, the adrenal glands do not produce enough adrenal hormones. Adrenal insufficiency may be caused by a disorder of the adrenal glands, a disorder of the pituitary gland... read more Adrenal Insufficiency ), it may be because of a problem with the adrenal glands themselves (a primary disorder, such as Addison disease Adrenal Insufficiency In adrenal insufficiency, the adrenal glands do not produce enough adrenal hormones. Adrenal insufficiency may be caused by a disorder of the adrenal glands, a disorder of the pituitary gland... read more Adrenal Insufficiency ). Or it may be due to a problem elsewhere in the body, such as the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus. For example, a problem with the pituitary gland could mean that the adrenal glands are not being stimulated to secrete hormones. A problem with the hypothalamus could affect levels of pituitary hormones, which in turn would affect adrenal gland function.

When too much hormone is secreted (oversecretion, also called adrenal excess), the disorder that results depends on the hormone:

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