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Primary and secondary hyperaldosteronism

Definition

Hyperaldosteronism is a disorder in which the adrenal gland releases too much of the hormone aldosterone into the blood.

Hyperaldosteronism can be primary or secondary.

Alternative Names

Conn syndrome; Mineralocorticoid excess

Causes

Primary hyperaldosteronism is due to a problem of the adrenal glands themselves, which causes them to release too much aldosterone.

In contrast, with secondary hyperaldosteronism, a problem elsewhere in the body causes the adrenal glands to release too much aldosterone. These problems can be with genes, diet, or a medical disorder such as with the heart, liver, kidneys, or high blood pressure.

Most cases of primary hyperaldosteronism are caused by a noncancerous (benign) tumor of the adrenal gland. The condition mostly affects people 30 to 50 years old and is a common cause of high blood pressure in middle age.

Symptoms

Primary and secondary hyperaldosteronism have common symptoms, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Low level of potassium in the blood
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. 

Tests that may be ordered to diagnose hyperaldosteronism include:

A procedure to insert a catheter into the veins of the adrenal glands may need to be done. This helps check which of the two adrenal glands is making too much aldosterone. This test is important because many people have small benign tumors in the adrenal glands that do not secrete any hormones. Relying only on a CT scan may result in the wrong adrenal gland being removed.

Treatment

Primary hyperaldosteronism caused by an adrenal gland tumor is usually treated with surgery. It can sometimes be treated with medicines. Removing the adrenal tumor may control the symptoms. Even after surgery, some people still have high blood pressure and need to take medicine. But often, the number of medicines or doses can be lowered.

Limiting salt intake and taking medicine may control the symptoms without surgery. Medicines to treat hyperaldosteronism include:

  • Drugs that block the action of aldosterone
  • Diuretics (water pills), which help manage fluid buildup in the body

Secondary hyperaldosteronism is treated with medicines (as described above) and limiting salt intake. Surgery is usually not used.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outlook for primary hyperaldosteronism is good with early diagnosis and treatment.

The outlook for secondary hyperaldosteronism depends on the cause of the condition.

Possible Complications

Primary hyperaldosteronism can cause very high blood pressure, which can damage many organs, including the eyes, kidneys, heart and brain.

Erection problems and gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in men) may occur with long-term use of medicines to block the effect of hyperaldosteronism. 

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if you develop symptoms of hyperaldosteronism.

References

Carey RM, Padia SH. Primary mineralocorticoid excess disorders and hypertension. In: Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, de Kretser DM, et al, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 108.

Nieman LK. Adrenal cortex. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 214.


Review Date: 7/16/2019
Reviewed By: Brent Wisse, MD, board certified in Metabolism/ Endocrinology, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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