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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Adenoma of the adrenal gland

Other Names for this Disease
  • Adrenal adenoma
  • Adrenal cortical adenoma
  • Adrenal incidentaloma
  • Adrenocortical adenoma
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What are the signs and symptoms of an adenoma of the adrenal gland?

The majority adrenocortical adenomas are nonfunctioning, which means they do not produce hormones and usually do not cause any symptoms. They are often found incidentally during imaging studies of the abdomen (in which case they are referred to as adrenal incidentalomas). However, some can become "functioning" or "active," secreting an excess of hormones that can lead to conditions such as Cushing's syndrome, primary aldosteronism, or much less commonly, virilization.[1]

Cushing's syndrome, also called hypercortisolism (having abnormally high levels of cortisol), is caused by chronic exposure to excess levels of cortisol. Common symptoms of Cushing's syndrome can include upper body obesity, severe fatigue and muscle weakness, high blood pressure, backache, high blood sugar, easy bruising, and bluish-red stretch marks on the skin. Affected women may have increased growth of facial and body hair, and menstrual periods may become irregular or stop completely.[2] Mild hypercortisolism without any obvious symptoms, called subclinical Cushing's syndrome, is common in individuals with an adrenal incidentaloma, although glucose intolerance and hypertension may be present in individuals with subclinical Cushing's syndrome.[1]

Primary aldosteronism (also called Conn syndrome) is a condition in which the adrenal gland produces too much of the hormone aldosterone, which balances the levels of sodium and potassium in the blood. Symptoms of this condition may include high blood pressure, fatigue, headache, muscle weakness, numbness and paralysis that comes and goes.[3]

Benign cortisol-secreting adenomas can also produce small amounts of androgens (steroid hormones, such as testosterone), although androgen levels in blood serum are usually not elevated.[1]  Excess amounts of androgens can cause an increase in masculine characteristics (virilization) such as increased facial and body hair (hirsutism), deepening of the voice, increased muscularity, and other characteristics.[4]
Last updated: 10/26/2011

  1. Andre Lacroix. Adrenocortical Adenomas. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate; 2011;
  2. Cushing's Syndrome Information Page. NINDS. October 26, 2010; Accessed 10/26/2011.
  3. Hyperaldosteronism - primary and secondary. MedlinePlus. July 26, 2011; Accessed 10/26/2011.
  4. Ashley B. Grossman. Virilization. Merck Manual. November 2007; Accessed 1/1/1900.