What is Addison’s disease?
Addison’s disease, also called primary adrenal insufficiency, occurs when your adrenal glands are not able to make enough hormones that are required for a variety of processes in the body. Damage to your adrenal glands is the most common cause of Addison’s disease. Although current statistics are not available, Addison’s disease is considered a rare disorder, affecting one to four of every 100,000 people (Source: NIDDK).
Endocrine Problems Spotlight
Your adrenal glands are located just above your kidneys. They are part of a complex system called the endocrine system. The cortex or outer part of your adrenal gland is responsible for making three types of hormones: glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, and sex hormones. Glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, help your body regulate energy needs, immune function, and the stress response. Mineralocorticoids, such as aldosterone, work to regulate the sodium and potassium balance in your body. Glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids also both help control blood pressure. Sex hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, regulate sexual development and sex drive. In Addison’s disease, damage to your adrenal cortex results in the glands not being able to produce enough of these hormones, particularly cortisol and aldosterone.
Addison’s disease affects both males and females of all ages. Most cases of Addison’s disease are caused by gradual destruction of the adrenal gland by the body’s immune system. This is known as an autoimmune disorder. Less frequent causes of Addison’s disease include infections, bleeding into the adrenal glands, tumors, genetic defects, and certain medications. Although the damage cannot be reversed, Addison’s disease is readily treatable with replacement hormones. Most people with Addison’s disease can lead normal lives by taking an adrenal hormone replacement.
A serious complication of Addison’s disease called Addisonian crisis (adrenal cris is) requires emergency medical care. In Addisonian crisis, a person has critically low levels of cortisol resulting in low blood pressure and other serious problems. Symptoms include abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, and altered consciousness. Symptoms of low blood pressure may include blurry vision, confusion, dizziness, faintness, light-headedness, sleepiness and weakness. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms.
Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for Addison’s disease and you are vomiting and unable to keep your medication down, have an infection, are injured, become dehydrated, are gaining weight, have swollen ankles, or develop other new symptoms.
What are the symptoms of Addison’s disease?
Symptoms of Addison’s disease usually begin gradually and may be overlooked because they progress slowly. Often, a stressful event, such as an accident or illness, will cause symptoms to worsen and progress more rapidly. The most common symptoms of Addison’s disease include fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, and unintentional weight loss. Other symptoms may affect the digestive tract, respiratory system, nervous system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, or integumentary system (skin and associated tissues).... Read more about addison's disease symptoms
What causes Addison’s disease?
Addison’s disease is caused by damage, destruction or malfunction of the adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands are located just above your kidneys and are responsible for producing various hormones. These hormones are responsible for regulating your body’s stress response, energy needs, immune function, salt and water balance, and sexual development. When your adrenal glands are damaged or destroyed, your body no longer has enough of these hormones and adverse symptoms occur.... Read more about addison's disease causes
How is Addison’s disease treated?
There is no cure once your adrenal glands are damaged to the point that Addison’s disease develops. However, the symptoms of Addison’s disease can be controlled by replacing the hormones that your adrenal glands can no longer make. This medication therapy will likely be needed throughout your life.... Read more about addison's disease treatments