Our adrenal glands produce hormones that are necessary for our bodies to function properly. However, sometimes they produce too much of a hormone known as aldosterone, which can cause a number of health issues.

What is Hyperaldosteronism?

Most people know that the adrenal glands produce adrenaline. However, these glands also produce aldosterone, another hormone that is necessary for the proper control of fluid and electrolytes in the body.

Hyperaldosteronism occurs when the adrenal glands produce too much of the hormone aldosterone. Aldosterone is a hormone that regulates blood pressure by regulating the amount of salt and potassium in the blood. When hyperaldosteronism occurs, people wind up with too much sodium in their blood and not enough potassium.  Over time, high blood pressure is the result.

Hyperaldosteronism can be primary, meaning that it is caused by a problem with the adrenal gland or secondary, which means it is a complication of another health condition. Primary hyperaldosteronism can be caused by issues with one adrenal gland (unilateral disease) or with both (known as bilateral disease).

Causes of Hyperaldosteronism

The most common cause of primary hyperaldosteronism is a benign tumor on the adrenal gland. When such a tumor causes abnormally high levels of aldosterone, it is also known as Conn’s syndrome. In some rare cases, cancerous tumors can be the cause.

Secondary hyperaldosteronism is caused by a condition elsewhere in the body that causes the adrenal gland to produce too much aldosterone. Causes can include issues with diet, genetic problems or medical disorders. Medical disorders that can cause hyperaldosteronism can include kidney disease, heart disease, liver problems and high blood pressure.

Hyperaldosteronism is most common in people between the age of 30 and 50. In some cases, the cause is hereditary. Familial hyperaldosteronism type I and type II can lead to both adrenal glands being overactive.

Symptoms of Hyperaldosteronism

Primary and secondary hyperaldosteronism have the same symptoms. Those symptoms can include:

  • fatigue.
  • headache.
  • high levels of calcium in the blood.
  • high blood pressure.
  • numbness and muscle weakness.
  • periods of paralysis that come and go.

Often, high blood pressure is the only noticeable symptom. People who have high blood pressure caused by hyperaldosteronism will find that their blood pressure is hard to control. They will often be on multiple blood pressure medications.

Extremely high blood pressure that lasts for a long period of time can damage many organs. These include the kidneys, eyes, heart and brain. Controlling blood pressure levels is vital for preserving health.

Diagnosing Hyperaldosteronism

Your doctor may order tests to diagnose hyperaldosteronism. These tests can include:

  • Serum potassium levels.
  • urinary aldosterone tests.
  • plasma renin activity tests.
  • plasma aldosterone level tests.
  • ECG
  • Abdominal CT scans

A radiology procedure that involves inserting a catheter into the adrenal glands' veins may also be performed to determine which adrenal gland is producing excessive levels of aldosterone.

Hyperaldosteronism treatment

If your hyperaldosteronism is secondary, controlling the condition that causes it can help relieve symptoms.

Reducing sodium levels in your diet may help reduce high blood pressure symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe medications that manage the buildup of fluid in the body and that block the action of aldosterone.

When primary hyperaldosteronism is causing symptoms, adrenal tumors are surgically removed.  This procedure is usually done in a minimally invasive or laparoscopic surgery, requiring only a short or overnight hospital stay.