Addison’s disease is a disorder that occurs when your body makes and secretes insufficient amounts of hormones produced by your adrenal glands (two glands that sit on top of your kidneys that are made up of two parts: the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla). In Addison’s disease, your adrenal glands produce too little cortisol and inadequate levels of aldosterone.
Addison’s disease is also called adrenal insufficiency and can occur in every age group and both genders, and it’s estimated to affect between 110-144 in every one million people in developed countries.
What are the symptoms of Addison’s disease?
The symptoms of Addison’s disease usually appear slowly and over the course of several months. Some symptoms of Addison’s disease can include:
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
- Weight loss and decreased appetite
- Low blood pressure (can result in fainting)
- Low blood sugar
- Salt craving
- Darkening of the skin
- Muscle or joint pain
Sometimes the symptoms of Addison’s disease can appear very suddenly. During acute adrenal failure (also known as an addisonian crisis), the signs and symptoms can include:
- Pain in the lower back, abdomen, or legs
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe vomiting and/or diarrhea
- High potassium levels
What causes Addison’s disease?
Addison’s disease occurs when your adrenal glands are damaged. This can result in inadequate amounts of cortisol and sometimes aldosterone, too. Often, this damage to the adrenal glands happens as a result of the body attacking itself (autoimmune disease). The body’s immune system views the adrenal cortex as foreign and attacks it.
When Addison’s disease results from damage to the adrenal glands, it’s called primary adrenal insufficiency.
Some other causes that can result in Addison’s disease and adrenal gland damage are Tuberculosis, infections of the adrenal glands, spread of cancer to the adrenal glands, and bleeding into the adrenal glands.
Secondary adrenal insufficiency can happen if the pituitary gland is diseased. The pituitary gland makes a hormone called adrenocoticotropic hormone (ACTH) that stimulates the adrenal cortex to produce hormones. Poor production of ACTH can cause Addison’s disease even if the adrenal glands aren’t damaged.
Is Addison’s disease treatable?
All treatment for Addison’s disease involves hormone replacement to correct the levels of steroid hormones the body isn’t producing.
Why should someone with Addison’s disease wear a medical ID?
People with Addison’s disease can experience adrenal crisis, a life-threatening emergency. When first responders know they are dealing with an adrenal crisis, they can provide the proper treatment. By wearing a medical ID, those with Addison’s disease can help make sure they receive faster and more appropriate care in an emergency.
We recommend you engrave your first and last name, adrenal insufficiency, any medications, allergies to food or drugs, and an emergency contact number. If you’re not sure what to have engraved, we recommend speaking with your doctor.
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