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Adrenalectomy removes one or both adrenal glands on top of each kidney. The adrenal glands make several hormones, including cortisol, aldosterone and sex steroids. The adrenal glands also make adrenaline and noradrenaline in small amounts.

Adrenal Glands

Your adrenal gland may be removed if you have any of the following:

  • Adrenal cancer
  • Diseases of the adrenal gland, causing it to make too much of a hormone such as Cushing's syndrome, Conn’s syndrome and Pheochromocytoma
  • A large adrenal mass
  • An adrenal mass that cannot be identified with a needle biopsy

Adrenal Gland Surgery

We perform two types of surgery to remove adrenal glands.

Laparoscopic Adrenalectomy

With the laparoscopic approach, the doctor will make 3-4 small incisions in the abdomen or back. The surgeon will use a tiny camera and gas in order to see, using other tools to separate the gland from the kidney. Stitches or staples will close the incisions. 

This procedure usually requires less recovery time than the open adrenalectomy.

Open Adrenalectomy

The doctor may need to switch to an open adrenal removal surgery if there are any problems or choose it in the first place for other reasons.

During an open surgery, your doctor makes an incision under your rib cage or in your abdomen and separates the adrenal gland from the kidney. Your doctor removes the gland through the incision and closes the site with stitches or staples.

Your doctor may use a tiny, flexible tube, inserted into the area where the gland was removed, to drain fluid. Your doctor removes it within one week after your operation.

adrenal glands
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The procedure can take between 1-4 hours. 

Recovery from an Adrenalectomy

We will monitor you in the recovery room for 1-3 hours. You will stay in the hospital for 1-3 days.

The staff will monitor your breathing, pulse and temperature. You may also need:

  • Pain and anti-nausea medications

  • Compression stockings to decrease the possibility of blood clots forming in your legs

  • Steroid medications immediately after surgery

At Home

Recovery time may be as long as 4-6 weeks. To help ensure a smooth recovery:

  • You'll need to be monitored to see that your body produces the right amount of steroids and hormones. Monitoring also verifies that you're taking the correct dose of steroid or hormone replacement medicine.
  • Your doctor may ask you to weigh yourself daily and report any weight gain of two or more pounds over 24 hours. Weight gain may indicate that you're retaining fluid. 
  • Try to increase your physical activity according to your doctor's instructions. This will help you avoid respiratory complications from the general anesthesia and improve the recovery of your digestive system.
  • Ask your doctor about when it is safe to shower, bathe or soak in water.

Possible Complications & Risks

As with all surgical procedures, an adrenalectomy poses certain risk of complications. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk and avoid infection before and after surgery.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.