Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 

Adrenal glands, also called suprarenal glands, are small, triangular glands located on top of both kidneys. An adrenal gland is made of two parts. The outer region is called the adrenal cortex and the inner region is called the adrenal medulla. Both parts of the adrenal glands--the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla--have distinct functions.

Disorders of the adrenal glands require clinical care by a physician or other healthcare professional. Below are some of the conditions BSW Endocrine Center treat:

  • Underactive Adrenal Glands / Addison's Disease
  • Overactive Adrenal Glands / Cush ing's Syndrome
  • Pheochromocytoma


What is Addison's disease in a child?

Addison's disease is when the adrenal glands don't make enough of two steroid hormones. The hormones are cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol controls the body's metabolism, blocks inflammatory reactions, and affects the immune system. Aldosterone manages sodium and potassium levels. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. There is one gland on top of each kidney. Addison's disease is fairly rare and may first appear at any age.

What causes Addison's disease in a child?

The most common cause of Addison's disease is damage to the adrenal glands caused by an autoimmune disease. Other cases of Addison's disease are caused by the damage to the glands by any of these:

  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • An autoimmune problem
  • A rare genetic disease

In rare cases, Addison's disease is passed down in a family.

Other causes of low corticosteroids can include:

  • Use of corticosteroid medicine. This includes prednisone. The medicines lower the amount of natural corticosteroids made by the adrenal glands.
  • Use of some medicines to treat fungal infection. These medicines may stop corticosteroids being made in the adrenal glands.

Which children are at risk for Addison's disease?

A child is at risk for Addison's disease if he or she has any of these:

  • An autoimmune disease
  • Cancer
  • Infection such as tuberculosis
  • Family history of the disease
  • History of using corticosteroid medicine
  • History of using anti-fungal medicine

What are the symptoms of Addison's disease in a child?

Mild symptoms may only occur when a child is under physical stress. Symptoms may include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Fast pulse
  • Dark skin, first seen on hands and face
  • Black freckles
  • Bluish-black color around the nipples, mouth, rectum, scrotum, or vagina
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Intense salt craving
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Intolerance to cold

The symptoms of Addison's disease can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is Addison's disease diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask about your family’s health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. Your child may have blood tests. These are done to check corticosteroid and potassium levels.

How is Addison's disease treated in a child?

The goal of treatment is to replace the hormones and to relieve the symptoms. Addison's disease can be life-threatening. Because of this, treatment often starts right away with corticosteroid medicine. This medicine may be taken by mouth. Or it may be given by IV. It depends on how sick your child is. In most cases, corticosteroid medicine must be taken for life. Treatment may also include a medicine that helps manage the body's levels of sodium and potassium.

What are possible complications of Addison's disease in a child?

If left untreated, Addison's disease may lead to:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Extreme weakness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Kidney failure
  • Shock from dehydration

Severe complications are most likely to occur when the child is under physical stress.

Lack of adrenal hormones may also cause:

  • High blood levels of potassium, which affect the water and sodium levels in the body
  • Extreme sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which may lead to low blood sugar levels

Helping a child live with Addison's disease

Addison's disease is a life-long condition. It needs lifetime treatment. Stressful events such as surgery, infection, or injury can cause severe symptoms of Addison’s. This is because corticosteroids help the body fight infection and keep healthy during physical stress. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider if your child needs surgery. Get medical care for your child right away if he or she:

  • Has vomiting or diarrhea
  • Has any other infection or illness

Your child should wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace. Work with your child's healthcare provider to help manage your child’s condition.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call your child's healthcare provider if your child has any symptoms of Addison's disease.

If your child has Addison's disease, talk with your child’s healthcare provider if your child needs surgery. Get medical care for your child right away if he or she:

  • Has vomiting or diarrhea
  • Has any other infection or illness

Key points about Addison's disease in a child

  • Addison's disease is when the adrenal glands don't make enough cortisol and aldosterone.
  • The most common cause of Addison's disease is damage to the adrenal glands caused by an autoimmune disease. Medicines can also cause the adrenal glands to not make enough cortisol.
  • Mild symptoms of Addison's disease may only appear when a child is under physical stress. Symptoms may include muscle weakness, fatigue, and dizziness.
  • Addison's disease can be life-threatening. Because of this, treatment often starts right away with corticosteroid medicine. In most cases, corticosteroid medicine must be taken for life. Treatment may also include a medicine that helps manage the body's levels of sodium and potassium.
  • If left untreated, Addison's disease may lead to severe weakness, kidney failure, and shock.
  • Stressful events such as surgery, infection, or injury can cause severe symptoms of Addison’s. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider if your child needs surgery. Get medical care for your child right away if he or she has vomiting or diarrhea or other illness.


What is a pheochromocytoma in children?

Pheochromocytoma is a tumor of the adrenal glands. The tumor makes hormones called epinephrine and norepinephrine. This leads to an excess of the hormones in the body. These hormones help manage heart rate and blood pressure, and they have other tasks. Too much of these hormones in the body causes problems. Pheochromocytoma is rare and occurs most often in adults between ages 20 and 50. But about 10% of cases are in children ages 6 to 14. A child may have more than one tumor.

What causes a pheochromocytoma in a child?

The tumor can be caused by both genes and environmental factors. About a quarter of the cases are part of a hereditary disease such as:

  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasias (MEN) syndromes

Which children are at risk for pheochromocytoma?

A child is at higher risk for pheochromocytoma if he or she has any of these:

  • Neurofibromatosis
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasias (MEN) syndromes

What are the symptoms of pheochromocytoma in a child?

The most common symptom is high blood pressure, which can be very high. The high blood pressure can cause:

  • Headache
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sweating

Other symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They may include:

  • Fast pulse
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Poor weight gain despite a good appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Belly (abdominal) pain or bloating 
  • Pale skin
  • Moist skin

The symptoms of pheochromocytoma can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is pheochromocytoma diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask about your family’s health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. Your child may also have tests, such as:

  • Blood tests and urine tests. These tests measure hormone levels.
  • MRI. This test uses large magnets and a computer to make detailed images of tissues in the body.
  • CT scan. This test uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan can show bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than regular X-rays.
  • Radioisotope scan. This test uses radioactive substances to create an image of the adrenal gland.
  • Genetic testing. This testing looks for genetic diseases as a possible cause of the tumor. 

How is pheochromocytoma treated in a child?

Treatment is done by removing the tumor or tumors with surgery. Before surgery, your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to lower the high blood pressure. Most people are cured with surgery. But in some people, the tumor can grow back.

What are the possible complications of pheochromocytoma in a child?

Complications can include heart damage or stroke caused by high blood pressure.

How can I help my child live with pheochromocytoma?

Ongoing medical care may be needed to check for growth of a new tumor. Family members may also want to consider genetic testing to see who else may be at risk for pheochromocytoma.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Get medical care for your child right away if he or she has episodes that include a headache, fast heart rate, and sweating. If your child has high blood pressure or other symptoms of pheochromocytoma, talk with your child's healthcare provider.

Key points about pheochromocytoma in children

  • Pheochromocytoma is a tumor of the adrenal glands. The tumor makes hormones called epinephrine and norepinephrine. This leads to an excess of the hormones in the body. A child may have more than one tumor.
  • These hormones help manage heart rate and blood pressure and have other tasks.
  • The most common symptom is high blood pressure, which can be very high. The high blood pressure can cause a headache, fast heart rate, and sweating.
  • Treatment is done by removing the tumor or tumors with surgery. Most people are cured with surgery. But in some people, the tumor can grow back.
  • Complications can include heart damage or stroke caused by high blood pressure.
  • Family members may also want to consider genetic testing to see who else may be at risk for pheochromocytoma.