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Medical Intel

Jun 11, 2019

The adrenal glands respond to signals from the nervous system and produce hormones that regulate many of the body’s normal responses. Dr. Erin Felger discusses what happens when a tumor develops on the adrenal glands and how we treat it.



Intro: MedStar Washington Hospital Center presents Medical Intel where our healthcare team shares health and wellness insights and gives you the inside story on advances in medicine.

Host: We’re speaking with Dr. Erin Felger, an endocrine surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Thanks for joining us, Dr. Felger.

Dr. Felger: Thank you for having me.

Host: Today we’re discussing adrenal surgery, or procedures to remove the adrenal glands. Dr. Felger, to begin with, what do the adrenal glands do?

Dr. Felger: The adrenal glands are located on the kidney. The adrenal glands make different hormones that help regulate different systems in your body. A hormone that everyone is familiar with is adrenaline and that is one of the main hormones that the adrenal gland makes.

Host: What symptoms might cause a patient to visit their doctor and ultimately lead to a diagnosis of an adrenal problem?

Dr. Felger: Well, it depends if the adrenal tumor is producing hormones or if it is not producing hormones. If it is what we call a functional tumor, the patient may have high blood pressure, headaches, palpitations, skin changes, weight gain, diabetes, fatigue or weakness. If the tumor is not producing hormone, the patient may not have and likely won’t have any symptoms at all. 

Host: Why might a patient need to have the adrenal glands removed?

Dr. Felger: Usually, we only remove one adrenal gland. It’s very rare to have bilateral tumors that need to be removed from those adrenal glands. One adrenal gland with a tumor usually needs to be removed for one of two reasons, the first being that the tumor is producing hormone and causing the patient to be sick or the tumor is too large in size and needs to be removed because of concern for cancer.

Host: How do you advise patients to prepare for adrenal surgery?

Dr. Felger: Again, it’s first having a consultation with your surgeon and then following the steps that need to be completed prior to surgery, which usually include labs, EKG, physical, extra imaging and any clearances that need to be had by other physicians.

Host: What does recovery entail after a procedure?

Dr. Felger: Recovery is very straightforward for adrenal procedures that are done laparoscopically or retroperitoneally. The patient is able to eat and walk and do most regular activities except for heavy lifting. Laparoscopic adrenal surgery is done from the belly side and it includes using a camera and small instruments and small incisions to remove the adrenal gland and the tumor.  Retroperitoneal adrenal surgery uses a camera and small instruments and incisions but is done from the back and not the front.

Host: Do patients need additional therapies after surgery?

Dr. Felger: It depends on what type of adrenal tumor a patient has. They may need to have follow-up with their endocrinologist to adjust medications. They may need further imaging studies and potentially treatment if they have a cancer.

Host: What sort of medications would they patients have to take ongoing?

Dr. Felger: Depending on the type of adrenal tumor, some patients may need to take long-term steroids in order to have normal function until their other adrenal gland wakes up. Other patients may need to have further imaging or frequent follow-ups and, potentially, medication if they have a cancer.

Host: Could you share a success story of a patient who overcame adrenal issues, thanks in part to surgery?

Dr. Felger: Yes. I had one patient who was a young man and he had excessively high blood pressures and was taking multiple medications and it was affecting his activities of daily living. His doctor did a full work up and found an adrenal tumor on one side. He came to see me and I completed the work up and had a good discussion with him about the operation to remove the adrenal tumor. I explained to him that it would hopefully help his high blood pressure but it may not cure it completely. The patient had the operation and he did very well during the surgery and afterwards. When he came back for his postoperative visit, he was doing quite well and he was off all of his blood pressure medications and he was quite thrilled because he was already getting back to his activities of daily living that he had been unable to do prior to the surgery.

Host: Why should a patient come to MedStar Washington Hospital Center for their care?

Dr. Felger: We have a multidisciplinary approach with our adrenal patients. They can be seen by our endocrinologists as well as have nuclear medicine studies done and then follow-up with the surgical team. We do an excellent volume of adrenal surgery at our institution and we are trained in both laparoscopic and retroperitoneal approaches so we can offer as many options as possible to our patients.

Host: Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Felger.

Dr. Felger: Thank you again for having me.

Conclusion: Thanks for listening to Medical Intel with MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Find more podcasts from our healthcare team by visiting or subscribing in iTunes or iHeartRadio.