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Conn's Disease

Alternative names: Conn's Syndrome, Hyperaldosteronism

What is Conn's disease?
What are the signs of Conn's disease?
What causes Conn's disease?
How does my doctor tell if I have Conn's disease?
How is Conn's disease treated?

What is Conn's disease?

The adrenal glands are located on the top of your kidneys, and produce adrenaline, cortisol, aldosterone, and other steroid hormones that enable the body to respond to stress. Conn's disease is a condition in which the adrenal glands produce too much aldosterone. It is frequently caused by a benign (non-cancerous) tumor of an adrenal gland.

What are the signs of Conn's disease?

High blood pressure (hypertension) is often the only symptom of Conn's disease. In some cases, the condition can lower the level of the mineral potassium in a patient's blood. This can lead to muscle weakness, headaches, and the passing of large amounts of urine.

What causes Conn's disease?

Conn's disease is most often caused by a benign tumor of an adrenal gland (adrenal adenoma), but it can also result from the enlargement of both adrenal glands. Doctors do not know the underlying reason for either of these causes.

The excess production of aldosterone can also be caused by heart disease, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, and kidney disease.

How does my doctor tell if I have Conn's disease?

Your doctor will want to check for Conn's disease if you have very high blood pressure (hypertension) or low blood potassium. He or she may perform one or more of these tests:

  • Blood tests to check the level of aldosterone and renin (another hormone related to aldosterone production) in your blood. If you have Conn's syndrome, the aldosterone level will be high and the renin level will be low or undetectable.
  • A CT (computerized tomography) scan to make X-rays of the adrenal glands. This allows your doctor to examine the size and shape of the glands, and to determine if the cause of Conn's disease is from a tumor, or from enlargement of the adrenal glands.

How is Conn's disease treated?

Many patients with Conn's disease have high blood pressure that is difficult to control. This increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and kidney failure, and makes treatment important.

A doctor may use medication to block the effects of excess aldosterone, usually by prescribing the drug spironolactone. A doctor may prescribe this drug in cases where Conn's disease is caused by enlargement of the adrenal glands.

If Conn's disease is caused by a tumor (adrenal adenoma) your doctor may recommend removing the adrenal gland that has the tumor, using laparoscopic surgery. You will be under general anesthesia, unconscious and unable to feel any pain. The surgeon will make several short cuts in your abdomen, and pass a tiny video camera and surgical instruments through these incisions. The camera sends images from inside the body to a TV monitor. Guided by these images, the surgeon uses the surgical tools to remove the adrenal gland.

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