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)
  • Obesity/weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hypokalemia (low potassium levels)
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Excess fat in the upper back, shoulders and 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 breasts)
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Diabetes mellitus or glucose intolerance
  • 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 and 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 balance. Since most adrenal tumors produce hormones, we can see that the symptoms produced can cause problems with blood pressure and salt balance. A 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 described the disease first.

Another common adrenal tumor is a benign adrenal adenoma that produces too much cortisol. Too much cortisol is very toxi to the body, and the symptoms are numerous. The disease is called Cushing's Syndrome after Dr. Cushing who made this discovery.

Symptoms of Cushing's Syndrome Cushing's Syndrome causes many symptoms throughout the body.

Another example of how the symptoms of adrenal tumors 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 for short) have symptoms related to the excess adrenaline--they get a fight-or-flight response 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 30-50% 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.


Checkmark white

What You Need to Know in One Sentence

The symptoms of an adrenal tumor 1) is dependent on what hormone is overproduced 2) can be highly individual, variable and sometimes absent 3) if present, means you need laboratory test and scans.