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Addison's-DiseaseAddison’s Disease: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatments

Common questions about Addison’s disease

What is Addison’s Disease?

Addison’s Disease is a form of autoimmune disease that occurs when your body is unable to produce a sufficient amount of certain hormones. Generally the adrenal glands become unable to produce enough cortisol, which is used to regulate the body’s reaction to stressful situations and aldosterone, which is responsible for sodium and potassium regulation. Addison’s Disease can occur at any age and also affects both genders. If left untreated Addison’s Disease may become fatal.

What Causes Addison’s Disease?

Before a cause can be identified your doctor must first figure what classification of Addison’s Disease you have. Health Line states that there are two major classifications known as “primary adrenal insufficiency” and “secondary adrenal insufficiency”.

Primary Adrenal Insufficiency: Occurs when your adrenal glands are severely damaged and are no longer able to produce the necessary hormones. This classification of Addison’s Disease is usually caused when your immune system attacks your adrenal glands. Other causes of primary adrenal insufficiency may include:

  • Prolonged administration of glucocorticoids
  • Infections in your body
  • Cancer or other abnormal growths
  • Certain blood thinners used to control clotting in the blood

Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency: Occurs when your pituitary gland is unable to produce the adrenocorticopic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is responsible to telling the adrenal gland when it needs to release certain hormones. It is also possible to develop and adrenal insufficiency if you do not take a corticosteroid medication that a doctor prescribes. Corticosteroids are medications used to control chronic health conditions such as asthma.

What Risk Factors are Associated with Addison’s Disease?

Health Line provides a list of the most common factors that can put you at an increased risk of developing Addison’s disease, these include:

  • If you currently are diagnosed with cancer
  • If you take any form of blood thinning agent
  • Have a chronic infection such as tuberculosis
  • Have had surgery to remove part of your adrenal gland
  • Have another form of autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes

What are the Signs/Symptoms of Addison’s Disease?

Many of the symptoms of Addison’s disease develop slowly overtime, Mayo Clinic provides a list of these symptoms that include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite
  • Darkening of skin
  • Low blood pressure or fainting
  • Salt craving
  • Low blood sugar
  • Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Body hair loss

Is Addison’s Disease Curable?

No, there is no definite cure for Addison’s Disease. However Addison’s Disease is treatable, and with the proper monitoring and treatment many people diagnosed with the disease live perfectly normal lives.

What Drugs/Medications are used to Treat Addison’s Disease?

Every form of treatment for Addison’s Disease involves a form of hormone replacement therapy. The replacement of these hormones is critical in order to make up for what your body is unable to produce on its own. The Mayo Clinic states that the most common forms of treatment are as follows:

  • Oral Corticosteroid : Your doctor may prescribe hydrocortisone, perdisone or cortisone acetate to replace cortisol, or fludrocortisone to replace aldosterone.
  • Corticosteroid injection : Injection of the replacement hormones may be necessary if you are unable to retain oral medication.

Changes to your medication may need to be adjusted over time or during special situations. A doctor may suggest a temporary increase to your intake of sodium if you will be participating in vigorous exercise, have gastrointestinal upsets, if the weather is hot, if you are facing a stressful situation or have an infection/minor illness.

View Sources

  1. Health Line – Addison’s Disease
  2. Health Line – Addison’s Disease Risk Factors
  3. Mayo Clinic – Addison’s Disease Symptoms
  4. Mayo Clinic – Addison’s Disease Treatment

Resources

Neufeld M, Maclaren N, Blizzard R, Two Types of Autoimmune Addison’s Disease Associated with Different Polyglandular Autoimmune (PGA) Syndromes, 1984, Medicine, Vol 60(5), 355-362

Hunt P, Gurnell E, Huppert F, Richards C, Prevost T, Wass J, Herbert J, Chatterjee V, Improvement in Mood and Fatigue after Dehydroepiandrosterone Replacement in Addison’s Disease in a Randomized, Double Blind Trial, 2011, JCEM, Vol 85(12),