Aldosteronomas are tumors that arise from a specific area in the adrenal cortex. These tumors tend to be benign with only about 5 percent being malignant.
Adrenal glands are located just above each kidney and are part of the endocrine system. One function of the adrenal glands is to produce the hormone aldosterone, which regulates blood pressure and potassium levels in the blood. Aldosteronomas tend to produce excess aldosterone, which causes high blood pressure and low potassium blood levels. This tumor can often go undiagnosed for long periods.
Causes of Aldosteronomas
Aldosteronomas can occur when one or both kidneys secrete excess aldosterone, which is a hormone that regulates salt and water.
If you have an aldosteronoma, you may experience a group of symptoms referred to as Conn’s syndrome. This group of symptoms includes:
- Large volumes of urine, particularly at night
- Moderate to severe high blood pressure
- High blood pressure along with a low potassium level (hypokalemia)
- Muscle weakness
- Increased thirst
It is important to understand that having any of the above symptoms does not mean that you have an aldosteronoma. Other conditions, such as an overactive adrenal gland, may cause the same symptoms. If you think that you may have an aldosteronoma, please call your doctor.
Surgical removal of an adrenal gland, or adrenalectomy, is most commonly performed for a tumor located within the adrenal gland. If both adrenal glands need to be removed, then patients will need to take medications to replace the hormones that would normally be excreted by the adrenal glands. If cancer is present and has spread, other treatments may also be suggested, including chemotherapy and radiation.
In a traditional adrenalectomy, an incision is made over the abdomen or side in order to provide direct access to the adrenal gland. A laparoscopic adrenalectomy requires smaller incisions. During a laparoscopic procedure, three to four half-inch incisions are made, and surgeons use a camera for visual guidance and special instruments to remove the adrenal gland or glands. With a laparoscopic adrenalectomy, most patients go home within 24 to 72 hours and experience less postoperative discomfort and a shorter recovery time than patients who have a traditional adrenalectomy. The majority of our adrenalectomies are performed using laparoscopic methods.
Some patients may not be able to have their tumors treated surgically because of the way it is growing or if it is cancerous and has spread to other parts of the body. In these cases, the patient should work with their endocrinologist to determine the best course of treatment.