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About the Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands are small, triangle-shaped glands located on top of both kidneys. Each adrenal gland is made up of two parts: an outer region called the adrenal cortex and an inner region called the adrenal medulla.

The adrenal glands interact with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland:

  • The hypothalamus secretes corticotropin-releasing hormone, which stimulates the pituitary gland.
  • The pituitary gland then secretes adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroid hormones.

What is the adrenal cortex?
The adrenal cortex, the outer portion of the adrenal gland, is essential for life. It releases hormones that: help the body deal with stress; control the body's use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates; control blood pressure; and, affect sexual development and reproduction.

The hormones produced by the adrenal cortex include:

  • Corticosteroid hormones (hydrocortisone or cortisol)
    These hormones help control the body's use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, suppress inflammation in the body, and affect the function of the immune system.
  • Aldosterone
    This hormone helps regulate the amount of sodium excreted into the urine, which helps the body maintain blood volume and blood pressure.
  • Androgenic steroids
    These hormones have an effect on the development of male sexual characteristics.

What is the adrenal medulla?
The adrenal medulla, the inner part of the adrenal gland, helps a person cope with physical and emotional stress.

The hormones produced by the adrenal medulla include:

  • Epinephrine (also called adrenaline)
    This hormone helps the body react to stress by increasing the heart rate and force of heart contractions, diverting blood flow to the muscles and brain, increasing the amount of glucose in the blood (for energy), and other activities.
  • Norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline)
    This hormone has strong vasoconstrictive effects (narrowing of the blood vessels), which increases blood pressure.

To learn more about the adrenal glands, select from the list of topics and resources.

Addison's Disease
Adrenocortical Carcinoma
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
Cushing's Syndrome
Primary Aldosteronism
  There are other rare conditions of the adrenal gland. To find more information about some of these conditions, use the section of this site called Rare Diseases A to Z.

If your child has been diagnosed with a condition of the adrenal glands, the doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests. For other tests and diagnostic procedures use the section of this site called Medical Tests A to Z.
Abdominal Ultrasound
Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)
Chloride (Cl)
CT Scan of the Body
Genetic Testing
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Abdomen
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Head
Overnight Dexamethasone Suppression Test
Potassium (K)
Sodium (Na)


This listing provides you with Internet sites that are sponsored by government agencies or are well-known and credible national organizations.

» Go to the Adrenal Glands Resource Directory


Last modified on: 30 June 2015