The adrenal glands make hormones that regulate essential bodily functions. People can live without both or just one adrenal gland. However, they will typically require hormone replacement therapy.

The two adrenal glands produce essential hormones. However, people can live without both if they receive hormone replacement therapy. Individuals who have only one adrenal gland generally do not need to take hormone replacement therapy, although it is necessary for some people. Individuals can have a normal life expectancy with close monitoring.

The most common cause for removing the adrenal glands is a tumor. Surgical removal has a low risk of complications.

This article discusses life expectancy after removing the adrenal glands and why the surgery may be necessary. It also examines life expectancy with just one adrenal gland and answers some frequently asked questions.

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People have two adrenal glands, which lie on top of the two kidneys. The adrenal glands produce hormones that regulate essential bodily functions involving:

Specific functions of the hormones include:

  • helping distribute stored fat
  • promoting a response to stress
  • producing pubic hair and body odor
  • fostering cardiovascular health
  • using fats and carbohydrates
  • boosting gastrointestinal health

Because of the key role that adrenal hormones play in general health and coping with stress, people cannot live without adrenal glands unless they take hormone replacement therapy.

“However, with lifelong hormone replacement therapy, it is possible to live a normal or near-normal life,” Sony Sherpa, MD, a holistic physician from Nature’s Rise, an organic wellness company, told Medical News Today.

“As long as they follow a healthy lifestyle and see a doctor regularly for monitoring of hormone levels, their life expectancy can be similar to that of unaffected individuals,” she said.

Learn more about the function of adrenal glands.

The most common cause of adrenal gland problems is a tumor. Tumors in this location are typically small and noncancerous, but they can produce elevated levels of hormones, which can have negative health effects.

Cancerous tumors may develop on the adrenal glands, but they are rare.

Many of the tumors that do not make hormones do not need removal. In these cases, a doctor may merely monitor them.

Conversely, removal may be necessary in the following cases:

  • The tumor is larger than 2 inches.
  • Urine or blood tests indicate the tumor is making hormones.
  • A doctor suspects the tumor may be cancerous.

Learn more about adrenal cancer.

The outlook for people with only one adrenal gland is often positive.

“This usually occurs after surgical removal of the other adrenal gland,” said Sherpa. “With early and effective management, the majority of individuals with only one adrenal gland can lead normal, healthy lives into adulthood.”

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic.

Do adrenal glands grow back?

Doctors have assumed the adrenal glands do not regrow after removal. However, there are some anecdotal observations of regrowth in humans and animals.

In a 2018 animal study, researchers found significant levels of adrenal hormones in rats after removing their adrenal glands. Of these rats, regenerated adrenal tissue was present in some, but not all.

Researchers hypothesize various compensatory mechanisms after removal may be responsible for the regrowth.

There are very limited human studies on this topic. More clinical research is needed to explore this hypothesis.

Is adrenal gland surgery dangerous?

Adrenal gland removal is associated with a 3.6% risk of complications following surgery. Doctors consider this a low rate.

After the removal of both adrenal glands, a person will have primary adrenal insufficiency, a condition of inadequate adrenal hormone production. It can cause:

Can you live with just one adrenal gland?

“A person can live just fine with only one functioning adrenal gland,” Sherpa told MNT.

“Generally, people with this condition will not need to undergo hormone replacement therapy, although some may be at a greater risk for depleted levels of vital hormones.

“A key component of managing such a deficiency is replacing the hormones that the adrenal glands would normally provide,” Sherpa said.

The adrenal glands produce essential hormones that regulate metabolism, immunity, blood pressure, and the stress response.

Despite the importance of these functions, if a person takes hormone replacement therapy and is closely monitored, they can have a typical life expectancy without the adrenal glands.

Many, but not all, people with one adrenal gland do not need to take hormone replacement therapy.

Tumors in the adrenal gland are the most common reason to remove the gland surgically. Some tumors only require monitoring, but if a tumor is larger than 2 inches, making hormones, or possibly cancerous, removal is necessary.

If a doctor is monitoring the size of a person’s tumor, it is important the person keeps all scheduled doctors’ appointments.