All About an Adrenalectomy

Written by Erica Roth | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is an Adrenalectomy?

Adrenalectomy is a surgery to remove one or both of your adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two small organs located above your kidneys. They secrete hormones to help regulate your immune system, metabolism, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.

 Why It’s Done

Benign or cancerous tumors on your adrenal glands are the most common reason for an adrenalectomy. If one or both of your adrenal glands produces too much of any one hormone, it may also need to be removed.

Preparing for an Adrenalectomy

You will be given general anesthesia for your adrenalectomy. The anesthesia puts you to sleep so that you will feel no pain during surgery.

Anasthesia can make you nauseous. Your doctor will instruct you to not eat or drink after midnight the day before your surgery. That way, if you become nauseated from the anesthesia there will be nothing in your stomach to vomit.

Adrenalectomy is performed as either an open surgery or a laparoscopic procedure. Laparoscopic surgery can reduce your risk of infection and shorten your recovery time. Ask your doctor which type of adrenalectomy you will have.

Open Adrenalectomy Procedure

If your adrenal glands or the tumors on them are especially large, your surgeon may opt for an open procedure. In an open adrenalectomy, the surgeon makes large incisions under your ribcage or on the sides of your body. The incisions allow access to the glands and the blood vessels attached to them.

Each adrenal gland is disconnected from surrounding blood vessels and tissue. The surgeon ties off the blood vessels to prevent excessive bleeding, and the adrenal glands are taken out of your body. Your surgeon rinses your abdominal cavity with a sterile saline solution before closing the wounds. Then, he or she seals the incisions with stitches.

Laparoscopic Adrenalectomy Procedure

Laparoscopic adrenalectomies are more common than open procedures and, according to the Baylor College of Medicine, have almost a 95 percent success rate (Baylor). During a laparoscopic adrenalectomy, small incisions are made in your abdomen and near your belly button to access the adrenal glands.

A tiny camera is inserted into one of the incisions. This lets your surgeon see your abdominal cavity on a monitor. Your abdominal cavity will be filled with gas to help the doctor see the adrenal glands clearly.

Using instruments inserted into the incisions, the surgeon disconnects the adrenal glands and cauterizes the blood vessels. The adrenal glands are removed from your body through a plastic bag that is inserted into your abdominal cavity.

Post-Surgery and Recovery

After your adrenalectomy procedure, you’ll be taken to a recovery room where your vital signs will be monitored. Once you wake up from the anesthesia, you’ll rest in a regular hospital room.

If you have an open adrenalectomy, you will probably stay in the hospital for four or five days. You can usually go home two to three days after having a laparoscopic adrenalectomy. You will most likely feel some pain at the incision sites. If you have a laparoscopic adrenalectomy, you might also feel some cramping or bloating caused by the gas in your abdomen.

Your surgeon will schedule a follow-up appointment with you two weeks after the surgery. Discuss any residual pain or other concerns you may have at this meeting. Generally, adrenalectomy patients can return to work or school as soon as they feel ready. However, doctors will tell you to avoid heavy lifting for six to eight weeks after surgery.

You will be given drug therapy to replace the hormones that your adrenal glands normally produce.

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