Types of Adrenal Disorders | MedStar Health

The adrenal glands, which are located right above the kidneys, produce hormones critical to your health and well-being. Adrenal gland hormones help:

  • Keep blood sugar, salt, and water at the right levels in your body
  • Sustain pregnancy
  • Mature sexually
  • Respond to stressful situations

Adrenal disorders occur when your body produces either too much or too little adrenal hormones. Once the hormone(s) causing the condition have been identified, our endocrinologists work with other physicians in the MedStar Health system to create an individualized treatment plan that will be most effective for you.

Some of the adrenal disorders we treat include:

Cushing's syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome arises from excess cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands and can be caused by a tumor. Our general approach to Cushing’s syndrome is surgery to remove the tumor or even the entire adrenal gland. You will likely need to take medication that contains replacement hormones for about 1 year following the surgery. If surgery is not possible, we can also recommend a variety of medications to stop the release of cortisol.


Hirsutism occurs when a woman over-produces male hormones and grows thick, dark hair on her body. While the condition itself is not dangerous, it can be embarrassing. It can also indicate another underlying problem.

Possible underlying causes of hirsutism include:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Tumor in the adrenal gland or ovary
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • Abnormal production of proteins in the adrenal glands
  • Abnormal production of male hormones in the ovaries
  • Use of certain medications

To treat the symptoms of hirsutism, we can prescribe medication, including birth control pills and anti-androgen (anti-male-hormone) medications. To treat the underlying causes of hirsutism, we may also recommend weight loss and certain medication.


Virilization occurs when the adrenal glands over-produce male hormones, causing women to develop male characteristics, including:

  • Hair on the face and body
  • Baldness
  • Low voice
  • Bigger muscles
  • Increased interest in sex

Often, a hormone-producing tumor in the adrenal gland causes the imbalance. Other causes may include:

  • A hormone-producing tumor located outside of the adrenal glands
  • Abnormal production of proteins in the adrenal glands
  • Cysts in the ovaries

We treat virilization depending on its underlying cause.

  • For adrenal gland tumors, we surgically remove the gland
  • For a protein imbalance, we prescribe medications to correct the imbalance
  • For ovarian cysts, we recommend either medication or, if the symptoms are mild enough, no treatment at all

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Expert endocrine care

Getting the care you need starts with seeing one of our endocrinologists.