The human body has many glands producing different hormones. The adrenal glands are above the kidneys and have two parts. The inner part is called the adrenal medulla, and the outer part is called the adrenal cortex. Each part has a different function and takes direction for production from the pituitary gland in the brain.
The adrenal medulla is responsible for releasing hormones such as adrenaline into the blood stream. The adrenal cortex produces and releases other types of hormones that control how the body makes use of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. The adrenal cortex is also responsible for the production of the male hormone testosterone in both men and women, as well as the production of the hormone mineralocorticoids. Mineralocorticoids control blood pressure and levels of potassium and salt.
Although the adrenal glands produce important hormones, it is possible to remove one or both and maintain some degree of a normality. The removal of one or both of the adrenal glands is called an adrenalectomy. This procedure is usually done through laparoscopic surgery and only when a patient has adrenal cancer, which is extremely rare. Living with one adrenal gland is possible without the use of hormonal supplements. But hormonal supplements are usually required when both adrenal glands are removed.
Effects of Complete Removal
Partial or complete adrenal gland removal is only done in cases of adrenal cancer. Therefore, the patient must be prepared to deal not only with the drop in essential hormone production, but also with the side effects of chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment. To replace the hormonal production of the adrenal glands, a patient is often placed on hormone replacement therapies. Without this type of hormone replacement, the patient can develop other major health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, high-blood pressure and other symptoms of a nonfunctioning metabolism. Despite hormone replacement, radiation and chemotherapy, the prognosis for five-year survival is not positive. Statistics show that 65 to 90 percent of those who have received treatment will still die within five years.