What is the definition of Addison's Disease?
Addison's disease occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough (or any) of the hormones, cortisol and aldosterone. These adrenal gland hormones are necessary for balancing water and energy in the body. Symptoms usually develop slowly over time, and may include fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and dark patches of skin. Sometimes symptoms occur suddenly causing a life-threatening condition called acute adrenal failure, also known as an acute adrenal crisis. Symptoms of an acute adrenal crisis include sudden weakness, pain, and fainting. The most common cause of Addison's disease is an abnormal response of the body’s immune system. Injury to the adrenal gland can also cause Addison's disease. Diagnosis is based on the the symptoms, blood and urine tests that evaluate adrenal function, and imaging studies. Treatment is focused on managing the symptoms and includes daily medications that replace the adrenal hormones. Treatment for an adrenal crisis may include intravenous hydrocortisone, fluids, and electrolytes, as well as drugs that normalize blood pressure.
What are the alternative names for Addison's Disease?
- Addison disease
- Adrenal hypoplasia
- Hypoadrenocorticism familial
- Adrenal aplasia
- Adrenal gland hypofunction
What are the causes for Addison's Disease?
In most cases, Addison's disease is caused by an autoimmune reaction that leads to damage to the adrenal cortex (the outer part of the adrenal gland). Less common causes of Addison's disease include repeated infections (such as fungal infections, tuberculosis, or HIV), cancer that spreads to the adrenal glands, trauma, and amyloidosis. Rarely, Addison’s disease runs in families and may be due to a genetic predisposition.
What are the symptoms for Addison's Disease?
The following list includes the most common signs and symptoms in people with Addison's disease. These features may be different from person to person. Some people may have more symptoms than others and symptoms can range from mild to severe. This list does not include every symptom or feature that has been described in this condition.
Symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Mood or behavior changes
- Dark patches of skin (hyperpigmentation)
- Muscle weakness or pain
- Low blood pressure
Symptoms typically start in the late teens or early twenties. An acute adrenal crisis can develop in response to stress. This is a medical emergency which can lead to shock or kidney failure if not treated promptly. Symptoms of a crisis include sudden weakness, severe pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and low blood pressure which can lead to fainting. With treatment, this condition does not change over time and the symptoms can be managed.
What are the current treatments for Addison's Disease?
Treatment for Addison's disease is focused on managing the symptoms. Treatment may include daily medicines that replace the adrenal hormones. Treatment for an adrenal crisis may include intravenous hydrocortisone, fluids, and electrolytes, as well as drugs that normalize blood pressure. People with Addison's disease should carry a medical ID that states the disease and emergency instructions.
Specialists involved in the care of someone with Addison's disease may include:
How is Addison's Disease diagnosed?
Addison's disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, a clinical exam, and laboratory tests that evaluate adrenal function. In addition, imaging studies such as a chest X-ray and/or a CT scan may be used to look at the size and characteristics of the adrenal gland.