Addison's disease is a rare disorder of the adrenal glands. With Addison's, the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone.
Addison's occurs because of damage to the cortex.
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Addison's disease is the result of gradual damage to the outer layer of the adrenal gland.
This damage may be caused by: An autoimmune reaction—the body's own immune system attacks the glandTuberculosis
Bleeding within the adrenal glands—related to the use of anticoagulant medications and
shockSurgical complicationConditions that are present at birth or due to genetic factors such as enzyme defects and familial glucocorticoid insufficiencyCytomegalovirus
Certain cancers, including those that have spread
Certain medicationsRadiation therapy
Chronic disorders, such as: SarcoidosisHemochromatosisAmyloidosisAdrenoleukodystrophyAdrenomyelodystrophy
Symptoms may include: Extreme weakness, fatigueWeight lossNausea or vomiting
or painDarkening of freckles, nipples, scars, skin creases, gums, mouth, nail beds, and vaginal lining
Emotional changes, especially
depressionCognitive impairment or confusionCraving salty foodsAbdominal painAnorexiaAmenorrhea
A severe complication of Addison's disease is the Addisonian or
. Adrenal crisis is a life threatening disorder, its symptoms include:
High or low body temperatureSevere abdominal, back, or leg painFaintingSevere dehydrationSevere nausea, vomiting, and diarrheaBluish skin colorMuscle weakness
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with: Blood testsUrine tests
ACTH stimulation test
Imaging tests evaluate the adrenal glands and surrounding structures. These may include: MRI scanCT scan
Symptoms of Addison's disease can be controlled with medications. They replace the missing hormones. Medication needs to be taken for the rest of your life. They may need to be increased during times of stress.
Immediate treatment of adrenal crisis includes: Self-injection of dexamethasoneHydrocortisone by IVNormal saline by IV
Surgery may also be needed for adrenal tumors or pituitary tumors causing the disease.
Regular blood tests are needed to monitor your response to medication. Wear a medical alert bracelet that states adrenal insufficiency or Addison's disease. This will let others know of your condition if you are unable to communicate.
There are no current guidelines to prevent Addison's disease. If you think you are at risk, talk to your doctor.
Adrenal insufficiency and Addison's disease. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service website. Available at:
http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/addison/addison.aspx. Updated May 14, 2014. Accessed June 4, 2014.
Adrenal insufficiency in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 16, 2013. Accessed June 4, 2014.
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Last reviewed June 2015 by Kim Carmichael, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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