What are the symptoms of adrenal gland disorders?

The adrenal glands, located on the top of each kidney, are responsible for releasing different hormones. Adrenal gland disorders occur when the adrenal glands produce too much or too little of these hormones.

Common symptoms of Cushing's syndrome (due to an adrenal, pituitary, or ectopic tumor) can include:

  • Upper body obesity, round face and neck, and thinning arms and legs
  • Skin problems, such as acne or reddish-blue streaks on the abdomen or underarm area
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle and bone weakness
  • Moodiness, irritability, or depression
  • High blood sugars
  • Slow growth rates in children

Women may also have increased growth of hair on their face and body and experience menstrual irregularities. Men may become less fertile and have a reduced or absent sex drive.

Symptoms of CAH range from mild to serious. Some people with mild CAH are never diagnosed because their symptoms do not cause them any problems.

Symptoms of the mild form of CAH, which can be diagnosed in children or adults, may include1:

  • Early signs of puberty (in children)
  • Acne
  • Irregular menstrual periods and possible trouble getting pregnant (in women)
  • Excess facial hair (in women)

Symptoms of the severe form of CAH, which is diagnosed in children, may include1:

  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar level
  • Trouble keeping enough salt in the body
  • Altered development of the external genitalia in girls, which is noted at birth and may require surgery to correct
  • Early signs of puberty
  • Irregular periods and possible trouble getting pregnant (in women)
  • Excess facial hair (in women)

The symptoms of functioning pituitary tumors depend on the particular hormone the tumor is overproducing.2

Too much prolactin may cause:

  • Headache
  • Some loss of vision
  • Less frequent or no menstrual periods or menstrual periods with a very light flow
  • Difficulty getting pregnant
  • Impotence in men
  • Lower sex drive
  • The flow of breast milk in a woman who is not pregnant or breastfeeding

Too much adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) may cause:

  • Headache
  • Some loss of vision
  • Weight gain reflected in the face, neck, and trunk of the body, but thin arms and legs
  • A lump of fat on the back of the neck
  • Thin skin that may include purple or pink stretch marks on the chest or abdomen
  • Easy bruising
  • Growth of fine hair on the face, upper back, or arms
  • Bones that break easily
  • Anxiety, irritability, depression
  • Growth deceleration with weight gain in children
  • Irregular menses

Too much growth hormone may cause:

  • Headache
  • Some loss of vision
  • In adults, growth of the bones in the face, hands, and feet
  • In children, excessive growth of the whole body
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
  • Snoring or pauses in breathing during sleep
  • Joint pain
  • Sweating more than usual
  • Extreme dislike of or concern about one or more parts of the body

Too much thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) may cause:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shakiness
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Sweating

Nonfunctioning tumors press on or damage the pituitary and prevent it from secreting enough hormones. If there is too little of a particular hormone, the gland or organ it normally controls will not function correctly. Symptoms of nonfunctioning pituitary tumors are2:

  • Headache
  • Some loss of vision
  • Loss of body hair
  • In women, less frequent menstrual periods or no periods at all, or no milk from the breasts
  • In men, loss of facial hair, growth of breast tissue, and impotence
  • In women and men, lower sex drive
  • In children, slowed growth and sexual development

Other general symptoms of pituitary tumors include the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Seizure
  • Runny or drippy nose

Most people with pheochromocytoma have high blood pressure (hypertension) because the tumor causes the adrenal gland to produce too much adrenaline or noradrenaline. Other symptoms may include3:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Episodes of high or low blood pressure
  • Anxiety or panic attack
  • Shaking (tremors) of the hands
  • Pale skin
  • Blurred vision
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • High blood sugar
  • Psychiatric disturbances

Symptoms can vary, depending on what causes the disease. Symptoms typically include4,5:

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Patches of darker skin
  • Craving for salt
  • Dizziness upon standing
  • Depression

The main symptom is moderate to high blood pressure (hypertension), which can be difficult to control. Other symptoms include:

  • Low potassium levels
  • Muscle cramping or spasms
  • Excessive urination, sometimes at night
  • Headache
  • Generalized weakness


  1. MedlinePlus (2021). Congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Retrieved February 13, 2024, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000411.htm.
  2. National Cancer Institute. (2011). Pituitary tumors treatment (PDQ®)—patient version. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/pituitary/Patient/page9/AllPages#7
  3. Pacak, K., Linehan, W. M., Eisenhofer, G., Walther, M. M., & Goldstein, D. S. (2001). Recent advances in genetics, diagnosis, localization, and treatment of pheochromocytoma. Annals of Internal Medicine. 134, 315–329.
  4. National Library of Medicine. (2012). Addison disease. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/addisonsdisease.html
  5. EndocrineWeb. (2011). Addison's disease and adrenal insufficiency overview. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from http://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/addisons-disease/addison-disease-adrenal-insufficiency-overview external link
top of pageBACK TO TOP