Symptoms of Adrenal Gland Deficiency

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Symptoms of Adrenal Gland Deficiency
Symptoms of Adrenal Gland Deficiency (Image: Photo by U.S. National Institutes of Health)

Adrenal gland deficiency (decreased production of adrenal hormones) occurs with Addison's disease, congenital adrenal hyperplasia and in response to certain surgeries, pituitary tumors or infections. Adrenal glands produce hormones such as corticosteroids, androgens and aldosterone which are, in part, responsible for managing the body's sodium, water, potassium and blood sugar levels, blood pressure, sexual development and reaction to stress. There are many symptoms associated with adrenal gland deficiency, and treatments are available to manage the disease.

Fatigue, Weakness and Dizziness

Fatigue, weakness and dizziness upon standing are common symptoms of adrenal gland deficiency. These symptoms may occur suddenly or develop over time, and are caused by the adrenal gland's low production of the corticosteroid hormone, cortisol. Dizziness can be intensified by low blood pressure which is another symptom of adrenal gland deficiency.

Excessive Urination and Dehydration

Excessive urination and dehydration can occur when adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone, aldosterone. Aldosterone deficiency can cause a low sodium level and high potassium level in the blood, which makes the kidneys unable to concentrate urine. This results in excessive urination that can lead to dehydration.

Hypoglycemia and Low Blood Pressure

Cortisol plays a role in the body's sensitivity to insulin and helps maintain cardiovascular function, blood pressure, inflammatory responses and metabolism. Adrenal gland deficiency patients with low levels of cortisol frequently suffer from low blood pressure and hypoglycemia. Another element of low blood pressure in adrenal gland deficiency is low aldosterone production. This affects the kidneys' ability to regulate salt and water in the body, thus further contributing to low blood pressure.

Skin Changes

Some patients with adrenal gland deficiency in the form of Addison's disease may develop a darkening of specific areas of the skin, including elbows and knees, in skin folds, around the lips, nipples and genital areas, the face and shoulders. When the body suffers from adrenal gland deficiency, the pituitary gland tries to stimulate the adrenal glands by producing excessive amounts of corticotropin. This abundant corticotropin over-stimulates melanin production, which is responsible for the darkening of the skin.

Hyperkalemia

Adrenal gland deficiency involving low levels of the hormone, aldosterone, can cause a high potassium level in the blood, also known as hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia can cause nausea, heart arrhythmias, weak or absent pulse and cardiac arrest.

Other Common Symptoms

Loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss are commonly present in adrenal gland deficiency patients due to low cortisol production, which upsets the body's metabolic processes.

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