Pediatric Adrenal Disorders
The adrenal glands are located at the top of both kidneys. They release hormones that are important to your child’s health and growth. Adrenal gland hormones manage blood sugar levels, they regulate the balance of salt, potassium and water in the body; they control the body’s response to stress, and they control sexual maturation during childhood and puberty.
Health-related problems fall into one of two major categories. Some are related to too much of one or more hormones being produced. Others are seen when too little of a hormone is being released.
Symptoms of adrenal dysfunction can vary depending on a child’s age.
Newborns and infants:
- Dry skin and lips
- Feeding problems
Older children may complain of:
- Stomach or muscle pain
- Trouble thinking clearly
They also may have a decreased appetite or weight loss along with a craving for salty food, and they might notice that skin color changes in sun-exposed areas. There also may be a decrease or absence of pubic hair following puberty.
- Addison’s disease
- Adrenal carcinomas
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH)
- Cushing’s syndrome
What are the adrenal glands?
These are glands located at the top of each kidney. They are made up of two sections. The adrenal cortex is responsible for secreting several steroid hormones, including cortisol and aldosterone. The medulla secretes epinephrine.
What is the importance of these hormones?
Among their functions are several that are very important to how well the body works. They help maintain a pregnancy, for example, and they assist your body in handling stress. They keep water, potassium and salt in balance. They also control sexual maturity during childhood and puberty.
What are some of the symptoms of adrenal gland disorders?
The symptoms are largely related to what is happening to the glands. In some instances there may be too little of a hormone being made; in others, too much. Symptoms of too much cortisol include weight gain, slow growth, acne, bruising, constant and severe fatigue, and upper body obesity. When the gland doesn’t make enough cortisol, it can have an impact on growth, on the normal development of the genitals, and on early puberty.
One symptom that will probably bring you to your child’s doctor for an aldosterone disorder is high blood pressure that is hard to control. Others include muscle cramping, frequent urination, especially during the night; headaches and generalized weakness.
How are adrenal gland disorders diagnosed?
Exactly what your child’s doctor does to diagnose your child depends on which disorder is suspected. Generally, blood or other fluid samples will be taken to look for abnormal levels of hormones. Depending on the results, the next step may be getting CT scans or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies to see if there are any growths on the glands.
How are adrenal gland disorders treated?
As with diagnosis, treatment will depend on the problem’s cause. For many children with low hormone levels, replacement medication may be all that is needed. At high levels, your child’s doctor may prescribe medications to block production of the hormone. Surgery to remove growths on one or both of the glands may also be recommended.