An adrenal cyst is a growth that appears on the adrenal gland. It is very rare, affecting only one or two people in 10,000. Most adrenal cysts are found incidentally, or by accident, when a patient is examined for other problems. The majority of people who are diagnosed with adrenal gland cysts are female, and although a cyst on the adrenal gland can occur at any age, most of them are found in patients between 30 and 60 years of age.
There are two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney. The adrenal gland secretes hormones that help regulate blood pressure, heart rate, and sweating. Other hormones secreted by the adrenal glands include corticosteroids, which play a part in regulating the levels of salt in the body, and testosterone. They are regulated by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
There are four types of adrenal cysts. The majority of cysts are endothelial cysts, which are benign, usually cause no symptoms and are similar to the less common epithelial cysts. Approximately 40% of the adrenal cysts found are considered pseudocysts, and these can become malignant. The fourth type of adrenal cyst is a parasitic cyst. This rare cyst is caused by the larvae from the species Echinococcus granulosus.
A benign cyst usually causes no symptoms, although if it becomes large in size, it can cause pain in the abdomen or back. Most adrenal cysts are found when other tests, such as x-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans, are performed—they would otherwise go undetected. A symptomatic cyst may affect hormone levels, blood pressure, and heart rate.
Treatment for this type of cyst usually consists of watchful waiting, with regular examinations such as CT scans and blood tests being conducted to observe the growth pattern and hormonal changes. The other option is surgical removal, which can be done laparoscopically, or through small incisions using an long, thin instrument equipped with a tiny camera. Normally, surgery is not required unless the cyst affects the hormonal balance of the body or causes pain due to its size.
Most people with an adrenal gland cyst are unaware that they have one unless it is seen while testing for other medical problems. Since the majority of cysts do not cause any physical symptoms, a conservative approach to treatment is followed. The cause of adrenal gland cysts is not yet known, although it is believed heredity plays a part.