What are the Symptoms of Adrenal Tumors and Adrenal Masses?

If you have an adrenal tumor, the symptoms and signs may include:
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure; see the page on endocrine hypertension here)
  • Obesity/weight gain
  • fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hypokalemia (low potassium levels)
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Excess fat in the upper back, shoulders, and the neck (called buffalo hump)
  • Round, full face (called moon face)
  • Thin, easily bruising skin
  • Stretch marks, often purple-red on the lower abdomen, thighs, and breast
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Diabetes Mellitus, or glucose intolerance (see the page on adrenal tumors and the metabolic “X” syndrome here)
  • Recurrent Headaches
  • Pallor (paleness)
  • Panic attack symptoms (fear, anxiety)
  • Irregular or rapid heartrate
  • Dizziness, especially when standing
  • Tremors
  • Abdominal fullness, discomfort or pain
  • In women: Virilization (male characteristics, with facial and body hair, deepening voice, menstrual irregularities etc)
  • In men: Feminization (female characteristics, with breast enlargement, tenderness, lowered sex drive and erection dysfunction)

Symptoms of Adrenal Tumors are Related to the Adrenal Hormones Being Produced

The adrenal gland makes a number of different hormones that help maintain blood pressure and salt ballance. Since most adrenal tumors produce hormones, we can see that the symptoms produced can cause problems with blood pressure and salt ballance. The most common adrenal tumor is a benign adrenal adenoma that produces too much aldosterone. Since aldosterone helps maintain the potassium levels in the blood, along with blood pressure stablization, we can see that a person with an aldosterone secreting adrenal tumor can commonly have symptoms of high blood pressure and low blood potassium levels. This is called Conn's Syndrome after Dr Conn who made this discovery.

Another example of how the symptoms of adrenal tuomrs is related to the hormone being overproduced is the pheochromocytoma. Another hormone the adrenal gland makes is adrenaline, which is made in the center of the adrenal called the adrenal medulla (more about this on our anatomy page).Tumors of the adrenal medulla are benign (non-cancerous) about 90% of the time, but they cause a lot of problems because the tumor produces an excess amount of adrenaline and epinepherine. We call these tumors pheochromocytomas. Patients with a pheo (that's what we call it, we don't use the long name very often) have symptoms related to the excess adrenaline--they get a flight-or-fight syndrome and have anxious spells and a sense of impending doom. They also typically get high blood pressure that is hard to control because of the excess adrenaline.

Remember, at least 30% of patients with an adrenal tumor will have no symptoms whatsoever except high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure and any of the other symptoms listed here, you MUST have your doctor check you for an adrenal tumor. Read more about high blood pressure caused by adrenal tumors.