DefinitionAdrenalectomy is the removal of one or both adrenal glands. There is one adrenal gland on top of each kidney. The adrenal glands make several hormones, including cortisol, aldosterone, and sex steroids. The adrenal glands also make adrenaline and noradrenaline in small amounts.
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Reasons for ProcedureYour adrenal gland may be removed if you have any of the following:
- Adrenal cancer
- Diseases of the adrenal gland, causing it to make too much of a hormone such as Cushing's syndrome , Conn’s syndrome, and Pheochromocytoma
- A large adrenal mass
- An adrenal mass that cannot be identified with a needle biopsy
Possible ComplicationsComplications from having an adrenalectomy may include:
- Insufficient cortisol production
- Decreases in blood pressure
- Infections in the wound, urinary tract, or lungs
- Blood clots in the legs
- Injury to nearby organs or structures
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia
- Increased age
- Long-standing cortisol excess
- Poor nutrition
- Recent or chronic illness
- Heart or lung problems
- Use of certain medicines such as blood pressure pills, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, insulin, steroids, sedatives, or hypnotic agents
- Use of illegal drugs such as LSD, hallucinogens, marijuana, or cocaine
What to Expect
Prior to ProcedureYour doctor will likely do some or all of the following:
- Physical exam
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Imaging tests, such as abdominal ultrasound, abdominal CT scan, MRICT scan of the head, and nuclear scan
- Give certain medicines to determine why the adrenal gland is not working correctly
- Aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs
- Blood-thinning medications
- Anti-platelet medication
- Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.
- Arrange for help at home after the procedure.
- The night before, eat a light meal. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
- You may be given laxatives and/or an enema. These will clean out your intestines.
AnesthesiaGeneral anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep.
Description of the ProcedureYou will likely be given IV fluids, antibiotics, and medications that depend on the condition that is being treated.Large masses are usually removed from the front of your abdomen. This is done so that the mass can be easily removed. The rest of your abdomen can also be examined.An incision will be made just under your rib cage or in your abdomen. The adrenal gland will be carefully separated from the kidney. The gland will then be removed through the incision. The incision will be closed with either stitches or staples. It will be covered with a sterile dressing.The doctor may choose to place a tiny, flexible tube into the area where the gland was removed. This tube will drain any fluids that may build up after surgery. It will be removed within one week after your operation.
Immediately After ProcedureThe adrenal gland(s) will be sent to a lab to be examined. You will be sent to a recovery room. There, you will be monitored for any reactions to the surgery or anesthesia.
How Long Will It Take?1½ hours-3½ hours
How Much Will It Hurt?Anesthesia prevents pain during surgery. Pain or soreness during recovery will be managed with pain medicine.
Average Hospital Stay4-5 days
Postoperative CareAt the Hospital
- You will likely require pain medicines.
- You may be nauseated for a few hours after surgery. Your doctor may place a nasogastric tube through your nose and into your stomach. It will drain fluids and stomach acid. You will not be able to eat or drink until this is removed and you are no longer nauseated. In this case, you will continue to receive IV fluids. When you begin eating, you may need to eat a lighter, blander diet than usual.
- You may be given special compression stockings to decrease the possibility of blood clots forming in your legs.
- Your body may be making substantially less natural steroid hormones. Your doctor may start you on steroid medicines immediately after surgery. The dose will be gradually reduced.
- You will need to be carefully monitored to see that your body is producing the right amount of steroids and hormones. Monitoring also verifies that you are taking the correct dose of steroid or homone replacement medicine.
- You may be asked to weigh yourself daily and report any weight gain of two or more pounds over 24 hours. Such weight gain may indicate that you are retaining fluid. You may be asked to monitor your blood pressure regularly at home.
- Try to increase your physical activity according to your doctor's instructions. This will help you avoid respiratory complications from the general anesthesia and improve the recovery of your digestive system.
- Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe, or soak in water.
- Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions .
Call Your DoctorAfter you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the incision site
- Nausea and/or vomiting that you cannot control with the medications you were given after surgery, or which persist for more than two days after discharge from the hospital
- Pain that you cannot control with the medications you have been given
- Pain, burning, urgency, or frequency of urination; blood in the urine
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Pain and/or swelling in your feet, calves, or legs
- Any new symptom
Urology Care Foundation
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Urological Association
The Kidney Foundation of Canada: British Columbia Branch
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- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 02/2014
- Update Date: 03/18/2013