1 in 10 people have an asymptomatic tumor in their glands that can increase the risks of diabetes and high blood pressure

adrenal glands

Adrenal glands highlighted in red.SCIEPRO/Getty Images

  • About 1 in 10 adults was estimated to have a non-cancerous tumor than can affect diabetes and hypertension risk, based on a recent study.

  • The study included British adults with tumors located on their adrenal glands.

  • The glands are responsible for hormone production, so even a benign tumor can have a cascading impact.

About one in every 10 adults was estimated to have a tumor in their adrenal glands, an area that modulates certain health risk factors, in a British study recently published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The tumors studied were benign, meaning they’re non-cancerous and mostly harmless. However, their presence in the adrenal glands may cause elevated levels of a stress hormone, which can further increase a person’s risk for Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Located on top of the kidneys, the adrenal glands make several hormones that help regulate metabolism, the immune system, and your response to stress, among other essential functions.

A small lump in the glands — called an adrenal incidentaloma — can trigger excess hormone production, causing ripple effects throughout the body.

As many as one in five patients with the tumor may have higher-than-normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Endocrine. Cortisol drives many of the long-term health effects of stress, like high blood pressure, blood sugar, and overall inflammation.

The more recent study aimed to better understand how those elevated cortisol levels might impact health down the line.

Stress hormones triggered by the tumor may lead to a greater need for medication

Compared to patients who had the adrenal tumor without any hormone irregularities, those with elevated cortisol levels were more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure, study co-author Dr. Alessandro Prete said in a press release.

After diagnosis, those patients also required more medication — usually three or more tablets — to manage their blood pressure compared to those with “silent” tumors. Patients with Type 2 diabetes on top of the cortisol issue were twice as likely to require insulin, a medication used to help people with diabetes control their blood sugar.

The study included 1,305 British adults with adrenal incidentalomas and no evidence of Cushing syndrome, another disorder where the body makes too much cortisol. Cortisol irregularities linked to the tumor were more common in women than men, and most were at least 50 years old.

About 10% of the adult British population are estimated to have adrenal incidentalomas, according to the study. Past estimates have put the rate at 3–5% in the general population and up to 10% in elderly.

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