A to Z: Adrenal Insufficiency

A to Z: Adrenal Insufficiency

A to Z: Adrenal Insufficiency


Adrenal insufficiency is a condition that happens when the adrenal glands do not work properly. These glands, located above the kidneys, make important hormones that help the body handle stress, control blood pressure, and balance salt levels.

adrenal glands illustration

More to Know

There are two types of adrenal insufficiency — primary and central:

  1. In primary adrenal insufficiency, the adrenal glands either become damaged or have a genetic problem that prevents them from working properly. They cannot make enough of the hormone cortisol. Sometimes, they also do not produce enough of a hormone called aldosterone that is needed to control salt balance in the body.
  2. In central adrenal insufficiency, the pituitary, a small gland beneath the brain, does not make enough of the hormone that triggers cortisol production. This is caused by diseases or problems with the brain or pituitary gland.

A temporary type of adrenal insufficiency also can occur in people who have been treated with high doses of cortisol-like medications (such as prednisone) when the medicine is decreased or stopped.

Keep in Mind

Symptoms of untreated adrenal insufficiency can include fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, and darkening of skin color. However, some people with adrenal insufficiency will have no symptoms unless they're exposed to stress.

Sometimes, symptoms can suddenly become much worse, usually when someone is stressed by illness or injury. This is called an adrenal crisis and requires immediate medical treatment, which usually includes additional hormone treatment and fluids given through a vein.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.





Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2015 KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com





Bookmark and Share

Related Resources
OrganizationNational Institutes of Health (NIH) NIH is an Agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and offers health information and scientific resources.
OrganizationHormone Foundation The Hormone Foundation's mission is to serve as a resource for the public by promoting the prevention, treatment, and cure of hormone-related diseases.
Related Articles
Blood Test: Estradiol Estradiol is the most important form of the hormone estrogen. Doctors may order an estradiol test if a girl appears to be entering puberty earlier or later than expected, or to evaluate menstrual problems.
Blood Test: Dehydroepiandrosterone-Sulfate (DHEA-S) Doctors may order a DHEA-S test if boys or girls show signs of sexual development earlier than expected. It can rule out certain diseases of the testes or ovaries, or help diagnose damage or disease of the pituitary gland.
What Are Glands? You've heard of glands, but what are they? Find out in this article for kids.
Your Endocrine System The endocrine system produces hormones, which are needed for proper body function and growth. Find out more in this article for kids.
Endocrine System Although we rarely think about them, the glands of the endocrine system and the hormones they release influence almost every cell, organ, and function of our bodies.
Endocrine System The endocrine system influences almost every cell, organ, and function of our bodies. It is instrumental in regulating mood, growth and development, metabolism, and sexual function, among other things.
iGrow iGrow
Sign up for our parent enewsletter