Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
The human endocrine system consists of a network of glands responsible for the production of hormones. Hormones, defined as chemicals produced in one part of the body that act on other parts of the body, regulate nearly all bodily functions. The adrenal glands, located on top of each kidney, produce hormones that help control metabolism, chemicals in the blood, sexual organs and stress responses. Adrenal gland disorders can increase the level of hormones produced, resulting in symptoms including excessive sweating.
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Each adrenal gland consists of two distinct sections, each producing a specific set of hormones. The outer portion of the adrenal glands, known as the adrenal cortex, produces corticosteroids including cortisol that functions in the use and storage of energy, aldosterone that stimulates the reabsorption of salts and water, and sexual hormones including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
The inner portion of the adrenal glands, known as the adrenal medulla, produces hormones classified as catecholamines including epinephrine, also called adrenalin, and norepinephrine, also called noradrenalin. Epinephrine and norepinephrine act on the sympathetic nervous system. Adrenal gland disorders can cause the adrenal medulla to produce increased levels of these hormones, leading to excessive sweating.
Adrenal Gland Disorders
Disorders within the edocrine system can directly affect the adrenal glands, or affect other glands that help regulate hormone production within the adrenal glands. The formation of a tumor in the adrenal medulla, known as pheochromocytoma, triggers an increase in hormone production. The pituitary gland, often referred to as the master endocrine gland, produces adrenocorticotropic hormone which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce hormones. Disorders of the pituitary gland, such as the formation of a pituitary tumor, can therefore trigger the adrenal glands to produce increased levels of hormones.
Epinephrine binds to beta adrenergic receptors and alpha adrenergic receptors, triggering effects on various parts of the body. Epinephrine binds to beta receptors in the heart, stimulating the heart to contract more forcefully. Epinephrine increases the heart rate while at the same time causes arteries and veins to constrict, as described by Cardiovascular Physiology Concepts. Epinephrine induces dilation of the blood vessels flowing through the muscles and liver, increasing blood flow to ready the body for action.
Like epinephrine, norepinephrine binds to the alpha and beta adrenergic receptors on cells. Norepinephrine constricts blood vessels, which increases blood pressure, according to Colorado State University.
In general, epinephrine and norepinephrine increase the cardiac output, which contributes to the increase in sweat production. As the heart beats faster, the body utilizes more oxygen, increasing body heat. In addition, these adrenal hormones increase metabolism by stimulating the breakdown of fat cells for muscles to use as energy, also increasing body heat. The body must dissipate the additional heat through the activation of sweat glands. Conditions that cause the adrenal glands to malfunction, such as pheochromocytoma, result in profound sweating, according to MayoClinic.com.