Diagnosis of Adrenal Gland Disorders: Hormonal Tests, Imaging Studies, and Diagnostic Procedures

Do you want to know what tests are used to diagnose adrenal gland disorders? If yes, this article will help you. Adrenal gland disorders occur when the adrenal glands produce too much or too little hormones in the body. These hormones regulate many other organs and functions. Its imbalance can cause many signs and symptoms which can lead to severe problems if not managed on time. Learn what tests are used to diagnose adrenal gland disorder and treatment options in this article. At Doral Health & Wellness, we have the best endocrinologists who have all the answers you need.

Diagnosis of adrenal gland disorders

Different adrenal gland disorders are diagnosed depending on the specific malfunctions in the adrenal hormones. For example, the severe form of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is most commonly identified during newborn screening. However, pheochromocytoma is diagnosed using blood and urine tests.

Here are the diagnosis tests you should expect to diagnose adrenal gland disorders:

  1. Adrenal gland tumors: To diagnose an adrenal gland tumor, your healthcare provider may order tests like:
  • Blood and urine tests are used to measure the amount of adrenal hormones to detect a functional tumor.
  • A CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan to check adrenal gland tumors and determine whether it’s cancerous or not.
  • A meta-iodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scan is used to detect a neuroendocrine tumor.
  • An interventional radiologist also takes your blood sample from the veins of each adrenal gland to identify tumors that CT or MRI didn’t pick up or to determine if both glands have small masses.
  1. Cushing’s syndrome: To diagnose Cushing’s syndrome, your doctor may order one or more of the 3 screening tests, including:
  • Tests screen for high cortisol levels in saliva.
  • Another test used to look for high cortisol levels in the urine over 24 hours.
  • A 3rd test is used to check if a synthetic steroid, called dexamethasone, lowers cortisol production in the body.
  1. Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH): To identify CAH in infants is through newborn screening. If the first screening test shows that the infant may have CAH, the healthcare provider will order another blood test to confirm the diagnosis.

In some cases, female infants may have visible genital abnormalities which makes the healthcare providers suspect CAH as their cause. In these cases, the healthcare provider will order an additional test to confirm the diagnosis. If the milder form of CAH is suspected, it is diagnosed by the ACTH stimulation test.

  1. Pituitary tumors: To diagnose pituitary tumors, doctors perform a physical exam that includes checking neurologic responses, like reflexes and strength, and evaluating the signs of high hormone secretion, such as acne or unusual hair growth. Your healthcare provider also does a vision test to determine whether the growth of a pituitary tumor has affected sight or peripheral vision.

If your healthcare provider suspects a pituitary tumor, he/she will order one or more tests of the patient’s endocrine function. To confirm the diagnosis, your healthcare provider may ask for a test to check the patient’s visual field (the area visible at a given instant without moving the eyes) or a magnetic resonance imaging scan of the patient’s head.

  1. Pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma: To diagnose pheochromocytoma/ paraganglioma, the healthcare provider may order a blood or urine test. The test measures the levels of:
  • Catecholamines: It’s a group of hormones that increase your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and amount of energy available to the body.
  • Metanephrines: Molecules produced by the body to break down catecholamines.
  1. Addison’s disease: Usually, a blood test is used to measure cortisol levels and levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) are used to diagnose Addison’s disease. A healthcare provider may also recommend an ACTH stimulation test, where a person receives a synthetic version of ACTH through an intravenous (IV) line. The healthcare provider compares blood levels of various hormones from before and after the ACTH is given. If cortisol levels are low, the person could have adrenal insufficiency and Addison’s disease.
  2. Hyperaldosteronism: To diagnose hyperaldosteronism, your healthcare provider may order blood and urine tests to check for elevated levels of aldosterone and low levels of potassium. Your healthcare provider may order a CT scan to determine whether there is a non-cancerous tumor or other abnormal growth of the adrenal glands.

Treatment options

Treatment depends on the type of adrenal disorder that is linked to the cause of the disease and focuses on normalizing adrenal hormonal levels in the body. Generally, treatment is given by these options:

  • Medication: To treat low adrenal function conditions like Addison’s disease, medications like hormone replacement therapy are used to increase the hormone levels to the target range. Additionally, medications are also used to decrease cortisol production in the adrenal glands or inhibit the effect of cortisol in conditions like Cushing’s syndrome.
  • Surgery: Surgical interventions are used to remove the tumor depending on the type, size, and extent of the tumor. Sometimes, surgeries are recommended when other treatment options fail to show results.
  • Other treatment options include radiation therapy and chemotherapy which may be recommended based on the underlying cause. Doctors may use a combination of both treatments depending on the condition. Also, medications may help control symptoms such as high blood pressure and fatigue.

During treatment, other organs like the pancreas, sex organs, thyroid, and pituitary gland need to be evaluated, because improper functioning of the adrenal gland can affect these organs’ functions.

Diagnosis of adrenal gland disorders mostly involves blood, urine, and imaging tests to diagnose which adrenal disorders you suffer from and create your treatment plan. In some cases, additional tests are required to diagnose adrenal gland disorders and provide treatment to prevent complications.


If you need help with adrenal gland disorders, visit our endocrinology clinic in Brooklyn to get professional medical help. Call us on +13473845690 to book your appointment today. Log on to  www.doralhw.org or visit us at 1797 Pitkin Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11212 to book an appointment with our endocrinologist to get the best treatment. We have the best endocrinologists who treat these kinds of diseases and helpful staff to aid you during your treatment.