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.

When your adrenal glands cannot make cortisol, it can be replaced with a synthetic glucocorticoid, such as dexamethasone (Decadron), hydrocortisone (Cortef), or prednisone (Deltasone). If your aldosterone levels are also low, you can be given a mineralocorticoid called fludrocortisone (Florinef).

It is extremely important not to skip any doses of your medication. Missing doses can lead to life-threatening situations. It is also important to contact your health care provider if you have any added stress in your life, either due to illness or mental stress including:

  • Anxiety and fear

  • Dehydration

  • Illness

  • Infection

  • Injury

  • Trauma

Your health care provider may need to adjust the dose of your medication to help your body handle these types of stresses. Do not change the amount of medication you take without first talking with your health care provider.

Addisonian crisis or adrenal crisis

An Addisonian crisis or adrenal crisis is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical care. Standard treatment consists of intravenous glucocorticoids, large volumes of intravenous saline with dextrose (sugar), and blood pressure support.

People with Addison’s disease are often taught to give themselves an emergency injection of hydrocortisone when they experience symptoms of an Addisonian crisis. Symptoms of an Addisonian crisis 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. If you have access to this emergency injection, administer the drug and seek immediate medical care (call 911).

It is important to carry medical identification, such as a medical identification card, that lists Addison’s disease and the medications you take to control your condition. It may also be helpful to wear a Medic-Alert tag to alert health care professionals about your condition.

What are the potential complications of Addison’s disease?

Complications of Addison’s disease include Addisonian crisis (adrenal crisis) in which a person has critically low levels of cortisol resulting in low blood pressure and other life-threatening problems. In addition, a life-threatening situation can develop if you take too little or too much replacement hormone medication. These complications can be serious and even life threatening.

You can best treat Addison’s disease and lower your risk of complications by taking your medication exactly as directed and following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. You can also help avoid complications by talking with your health care provider if you develop dehydration, illness, infection, injury, trauma, or any other unusual stress.

Complications can also develop from a related or underlying disease, disorder or condition including:

  • Chronic thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s disease

  • Diabetes

  • Hypoparathyroidism

  • Ovarian or testicular failure

  • Pernicious anemia

  • Thyrotoxicosis 


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 on... Read more about addison's diseaseintroduction


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 diseasesymptoms


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 diseasecauses

Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD Last Annual Review Date: Jun 14, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Diabetes and the Endocrine System

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