Understanding Your Adrenal Glands and Their Role in Urology

October 08,2020 |

Your urinary tract system is a complex system that works to filter out waste products from your blood. The resulting waste is transformed into the by-product urine. Your urinary tract is comprised of your kidneys, renal pelvis, ureters, bladder, and urethra, but relies on certain hormones to function properly. When these hormones go awry, the system starts to malfunction.

Without a properly functioning urinary tract system, your body struggles to remove waste products and medicines from the body, balance fluids and electrolytes, control blood pressure and red blood cell production, and keep your bones healthy. When one part of your urinary tract system stops working properly, the entire system starts to fail. Like other essential systems, it needs to be treated as a well-oiled machine. This includes everything from start to finish—hormone production to waste expulsion.

We’ve discussed the importance of kidney health and bladder health alongside many common urologic problems, but we need to fully understand what makes the system run properly if we want to see the big picture. To do that, we need to explore the adrenal glands. In this article, we’ll talk about the importance of adrenal glands, how they affect urology, and what happens when problems start to arise.

Getting to Know Adrenal Glands

Adrenal glands, which are also commonly referred to as suprarenal glands, are the small, triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of both of your kidneys.1 Their primary goal is to produce hormones in response to signals from your pituitary gland that help to regulate your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, and hormones that respond to stress.1 The connection of adrenal glands to your urinary system is the release of aldosterone—a hormone that sends signals to the kidneys to absorb more sodium into the bloodstream and release potassium into the urine.1 This result is the homeostasis of your blood’s pH level.

Anatomy of Adrenal Glands

Each of your adrenal glands are made up of two primary parts: the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla. The adrenal cortex is the outermost layer and is further divided into three separate zones: zona glomerulosa, zona fasciculata, and zona reticularis.1 Each zone works to produce specific hormones. The adrenal medulla is the center of the adrenal gland, which produces stress hormones such as adrenaline.1 The two work together to provide our body with the hormones it needs to function properly under different conditions. Both are enveloped in an adipose capsule—a protective layer that keeps the adrenal gland whole.1

Hormones of Adrenal Glands

The different hormones that secreted from the adrenal glands help to regulate responses and daily functions that your body needs to stay healthy and stay alive. Many of these hormones are completely vital to your existence, making adrenal glands some of the most important glands in your body. As we mentioned, each part of the adrenal gland has different functions and produce different hormones. This allows simultaneous excretion without putting any delay on the release of your stress hormones when needed. Your adrenal glands are responsible for hormones such as cortisol, aldosterone, DHEA, androgenic steroids, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.

  • Cortisol – cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone that helps to control your body’s use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, suppresses inflammation, regulates blood pressure, increases blood sugar, and controls your sleep/wake cycle.1
  • Aldosterone – aldosterone plays a central role in regulating blood pressure and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.1 Once secreted, it sends signals to your kidneys that tells them what to do to regulate and balance the pH levels of your blood. This is the primary link between your adrenal glands and urology.
  • DHEA and Androgenic Steroids – both of these hormones are weak male hormones that are the precursor for estrogens and androgens that are produced in the ovaries and tesetes.1
  • Epinephrine and Norepinephrine – these are the hormones responsible for our fight or flight response. Both epinephrine and norepinephrine have similar functions and work to increase the heart rate and force of contractions, increase blood flow to your muscles and brain, relaxing airway smooth muscles, and assisting in sugar metabolism.1 They are your stress hormones and allow your body to respond quickly and naturally to physically or emotionally stressful situations.

Adrenal Gland Disorders

Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong with your adrenal glands. They can either produce too much or too little of certain hormones, thus causing a hormonal imbalance. Everyone’s situation is different, but various diseases can exasperate hormonal imbalances so it’s important to regularly see your doctor and live a healthy lifestyle.

Adrenal Insufficiency

Adrenal insufficiency is rare and results in low levels of adrenal hormones being produced. It’s usually caused by the general disease of the adrenal glands (primary adrenal insufficiency, Addison’s disease) or by diseases of the hypothalamus or pituitary gland.1 These diseases may occur due to autoimmune disorders, fungal infection, cancer, or genetic factors and usually develops over time. However, it can also appear suddenly as acute adrenal failure.1 Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include weight loss, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, darkening of skin, abdominal pain, and more.1 Contact your doctor immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.

Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia

This is an adrenal problem resulting from genetic disorders. Children born with congenital adrenal hyperplasia are missing an essential enzyme that’s necessary to produce cortisol, aldosterone, or both.1 It often goes undetected, but in severe cases can present itself in infants with ambiguous genitalia, dehydration, vomiting, and failure to thrive.1

Overactive Adrenal Glands

In certain situations, your adrenal glands can develop nodules that over stimulate the glands and lead to an excess of certain hormones. Larger nodules are often suspicious of being malignant, but even benign nodules can lead to overactive glands. To ensure that no problems arise due to long-term hormone imbalances, many doctors recommend surgery to remove the nodule regardless of if it’s cancerous or not.

Cushing Syndrome

Cushing syndrome results from the excessive production of cortisol from the adrenal glands.1 Symptoms appear through weight gain, fatty deposits in certain areas of the body, thinning arms and legs, purple stretch marks on the abdomen, facial hair, fatigue, muscle weakness, easily bruised skin, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other general health issues that cannot otherwise be explained.1 Cushing disease is diagnosed when the excess cortisol is triggered by overproduction of ACTH by a benign tumor in the pituitary gland or elsewhere.1 Cushing syndrome can often be associated with excessive steroid use over time.


Hyperaldosteronism occurs when your body produces too much aldosterone from either one or both of your glands.1 This leads to an increase in blood pressure, low potassium levels, and other problems that need correcting. Symptoms can therefore include muscle aches, weakness, and spasms due to low potassium levels.


Pheochromocytoma is a specific tumor that leads to an excess amount of adrenaline or noradrenaline that’s released in bursts.1 This can lead to persistent or sporadic high blood pressure that’s hard to control with medications alongside headaches, sweating, tremors, anxiety, and rapid hearbeat.1

Adrenal Cancer

Finally, adrenal cancer—while rare—can and does happen. This often results in tumors that affect how your adrenal glands function or secrete hormones. It could cause certain hormones to be released in excess or in lacking quantities. Some tumors may not affect hormone secretion until they’ve grown and metastasized. Always talk to your doctor if you’re worried about adrenal cancer or have any genetic predisposition to it.

There are different causes for different adrenal gland disorders. In some circumstances, disorders are caused by certain medications. To make sure that you’re avoiding potential problems, always speak with your doctor about any and all medications you’re currently taking and make sure to communicate if somethings starts to go wrong. In other cases, adrenal problems can be caused by autoimmune responses, problems with the pituitary gland, or genetic conditions.

Many of the adrenal gland disorders will come with unique symptoms, so it’s important to monitor your body for any changes and take simple steps to take better care of your urologic health. If you have any symptoms, your doctor will need to properly diagnose your adrenal gland disorder in order to make a treatment plan. For these types of disorders, there are two treatment options: medication and surgery. You and your doctor will work together to determine the best course of action and get you back to feeling yourself.


Your adrenal glands are an important part of your urologic health. To make sure your body is functioning as it should, it needs the hormones produced by these glands. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong. If you feel like you’re having problems with your hormones, or have other symptoms that raise concern, call your doctor immediately. Understanding how your body works can give you the education you need to take care of it. When you need a little help, Byram Healthcare can help. Learn more about who we are today.



1 https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/adrenal-glands