January Story of Hope: What Is Adrenal Insufficiency?

“I look in the mirror and wonder how I can be so ill and yet not look ill. I look in the mirror and say, ‘you may be ill girl, but that’s not going to stop me today.’ ”

The reflection in Deborah Fowler’s mirror looks healthy – but inside, she is fighting a serious medical condition called adrenal insufficiency. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, adrenal insufficiency is a disorder that occurs when your adrenal glands, located just above your kidneys, produce insufficient amounts of hormones which give instructions to virtually every tissue and organ in your body. Also called Addison’s disease, it occurs in all age groups and affects both sexes. Deborah was diagnosed two and a half years ago, after several tests and trips to the doctor.

Adrenal insufficiency is often linked to an autoimmune disease, meaning the body attacks itself. For unknown reasons, the outer layer of your adrenal gland, called the cortex, is seen as a foreign object for the immune system to attack and destroy. Because of this, germs are especially dangerous to people like Deborah, who gets sick easily. To avoid becoming contaminated, she carries Lysol wipes and bleach with her at all times and carefully wipes down shopping baskets, elevator buttons and restaurant tables, or has her partner push buttons, open doors and carry groceries for her. 

“Every time you reach out your hand to touch something you are touching someone else’s germs,” she said.

Deborah also advises that anyone with adrenal insufficiency stay close to home and avoid anyone with an illness, including family members. As a cashier for Home Depot, this was initially very difficult for her, and eventually her doctor took her out of work. If she were to come into contact with a customer with even a minor cold, the results could be deadly.

“We get sick so fast and so easy. A cold for most people is pneumonia for someone like me,” she said.

Symptoms of this potentially life-threatening condition develop slowly and could include muscle weakness and fatigue, weight loss and decreased appetite, darkening of the skin, low blood pressure, fainting, salt cravings, low blood sugar, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting, muscle or joint pain, irritability and depression. Deborah has also experienced problems with her lungs, stomach, pancreas and thyroid, and doctors are keeping a close watch on her kidneys and liver.

To treat adrenal insufficiency, patients take hormones to replace the insufficient amounts being made by their adrenal glands. Deborah relies solely on Hydrocortisone and prayers to give her energy and keep her healthy. She also makes a point to educate herself and the people around her about her medical condition, and stays close with her doctors. Most importantly, she keeps a positive attitude about her condition and lives life to the fullest every day. 

“Don’t be afraid of what you have. Don’t make it an enemy,” she said. “Enjoy your life and don’t live as an ill person; live as someone who is fighting and believes they can do it.”

If you have adrenal insufficiency or know someone who has this condition it is important that you wear a medical ID bracelet. You may wish to have your name, medical condition, any life threatening allergies to food or medication, treatment instructions, emergency or doctor’s contact information. Be sure to consult with your doctor on the personalized medical information they recommend you have engraved on your medical ID bracelet. Lauren’s Hope provides a full line of fashionable medical ID bracelets and necklaces for men, women and kids. Visit us today at www.LaurensHope.com or call us at 1.800.360.8680.

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