Health A-Z

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Tumors of the adrenal gland are classified as either functioning or nonfunctioning:

  • A functioning adrenocortical tumor overproduces certain hormones. It may trigger symptoms.

  • A nonfunctioning adrenocortical tumor doesn't secrete hormones. It may not cause symptoms early on.

The symptoms associated with functioning adrenocortical tumors vary. They depend on which hormones are overproduced and on the patient's age.

Cortisol helps the body use sugar, protein, and fats. Having too much of this hormone may cause

  • weight gain in the abdomen, face, neck, and chest

  • excessive hair growth on the face, chest, back, or arms

  • purple or pink stretch marks on the belly

  • a lump of fat behind the neck and shoulders

  • deepening of the voice

  • swelling of the sex organs or breasts (in men and women)

  • irregular menstrual periods (in women)

  • severe fatigue and muscle weakness

  • easy bruising

  • bone fractures

  • moodiness and/or depression

  • high blood sugar

  • high blood pressure.

Some of these symptoms are also characteristic of Cushing syndrome. This noncancerous condition affects the pituitary gland in the brain.

Aldosterone helps control the balance of water and salts in the kidney. Having too much of this hormone may lead to

  • high blood pressure

  • muscle weakness or cramps

  • frequent urination

  • feeling thirsty

  • fluid build-up in the body's tissues

Androgens and estrogen are hormones that help develop and maintain sex characteristics that distinguish males and females.The major androgen is testosterone. Women with too much testosterone may have

  • hair growth on the face and body

  • acne

  • balding

  • a deepening of the voice

  • menstrual changes.

Women who have too much estrogen may experience

  • irregular menstrual periods

  • menstrual bleeding (if they have stopped having periods).

Men with too much estrogen may have

  • breast growth and tenderness

  • lower sex drive

  • inability to get or maintain an erection.

In children, the symptoms are different. An adrenal tumor that produces male sex hormones can cause

  • excessive facial, pubic, and underarm hair

  • an enlarged penis (in boys)

  • an enlarged clitoris (in girls).

A tumor that secretes female sex hormones in children can set off

  • early puberty (in girls)

  • breast enlargement (in boys).

Some patients experience symptoms when the tumor grows and presses on nearby organs and tissues. This may be felt as a lump or pain near the tumor, fullness in the belly, or trouble with eating or weight loss.

If you or your child has these symptoms, discuss them with your doctor right away.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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