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Addison's Disease FAQs

Following are the common questions about Addison's Disease:

  1. What is Addison's Disease?
  2. What are the causes of Addison's Disease?
  3. What are the symptoms of Addison's Disease?
  4. What is Adrenal Crisis?
  5. What are the diagnostic tests for Addison's Disease?
  6. How does your doctor treat Addison's disease?
  7. For how long do I have to take the medicines?
  8. What to do if a person suddenly arrives at an adrenal crisis state?
  9. Can children suffer from Addison's disease?
  10. Can Addison's disease be a birth defect?
  1. What is Addison's Disease?

    Addison's disease is also known as Adrenal insufficiency and relates to malfunctioning of Adrenal Gland. Just above the kidneys, two adrenal glands are situated, that produce several essential hormones.

    The adrenal gland can be divided into two parts; Adrenal Cortex (upper portion) and Adrenal Medulla (inner portion). Both these sections produce different classes of hormones; essential for healthy functioning of your body. Medulla produces Adrenalin that regulates various metabolic functions within the body. Cortex on the other hand, produces Glucocorticoids and Mineralocorticoids, along with male sex hormone, Androgen.

    Any damage to the Adrenal Cortex, that results in reduced production of a type of Glucocorticoid known as Cortisol, and a type of Mineralocorticoid known as Aldosterone, is known as Addison's disease. In a nutshell, the failure of the glands to produce these vital hormones is known as Addison's Disease or Hypoadrenalism.

  2. What are the causes of Addison's Disease?

    Addison's Disease has been divided into two sub sections, depending upon the causes that are causing this adrenal insufficiency. The two types and related causes have been discussed below:

    Primary Adrenal Insufficiency:

    • A condition that arises as an autoimmune disorder. Due to reasons unknown, the immune system functions wrongly and takes Adrenal Cortex as a foreign entity and thus tries inhibiting normal functioning of the gland. Resulting consequence is reduced production of adrenal hormones.
    • Tuberculosis and other infections of the gland may also result in a similar condition
    • Adrenal Cancer mostly relates to reduced production of hormones
    • Bleeding within the adrenal gland may also lead to insufficiency

    Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency:

    • Adrenal Insufficiency resulting due to a pituitary gland malfunction is known as Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency
    • The functions of adrenal glands are controlled by Pituitary Gland secretion. Pituitary Gland produces Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), that stimulates Adrenal Cortex to secrete related hormones.
    • However, any condition that damages your pituitary gland may result in reduced production of ACTH, thus leading to the cortex not receiving sufficient hormones to stimulate it.
    • This condition results in reduced secretion of Cortisol and Aldosterone, even when there is no problem with the adrenal cortex.
    • Abrupt discontinuation of corticosteroid drugs to treat conditions such as Asthma or Arthritis may also lead to Cortex malfunction and is also termed as Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency

  3. What are the symptoms of Addison's Disease?

    Addison's disease does not come up with vivid symptoms and therefore does not facilitate early diagnosis. Identifying subtle symptoms and visiting the doctor as soon as these are experienced is crucial.

    Listed below are some of the early symptoms of Addison's disease:

    • Fatigue and a constant feeling of drowsiness
    • Strained and weakened muscles
    • Irritation and depression
    • Reduced appetite
    • Weight loss
    • Frequent need of urinating
    • An increased need of quenching thirst and dehydration
    • Salt Craving

    Symptoms experienced after a few months:

    • Darkening or pigmentation of skin
    • Lips and gums appear to be brownish than usual
    • Low blood pressure leading to frequent episodes of unconsciousness
    • Vomiting and diarrhea
    • Joint pain and muscle cramps
    • Unexplained disinterest in sexual activities. Particularly seen in women.
    • Irregular or reduced menstrual flow in women
    • Low levels of blood sugar
    • Hypothyroidism

  4. What is Adrenal Crisis?

    Adrenal or Addison's Crisis is a condition that refers to acute adrenal insufficiency. During this condition, adrenal glands almost stop producing related hormones, resulting in worsening of above symptoms.

    Adrenal Crisis may lead to coma and even death. Sometimes, adrenal crisis may result in sudden show of severe symptoms and the patient needs to be rushed to a hospital so as to avoid fatal cases.

  5. What are the diagnostic tests for Addison's Disease?

    As above mentioned, the disease does not come up with vivid symptoms that can confirm Adrenal insufficiency. However still, a doctor will definitely discuss symptoms and perform simple physical examinations to look for any hyperpigmentation symptoms or brownish discoloration of gums and lips.

    Besides this, a doctor will order for the following tests to confirm Addison's disease:

    • Blood Tests to detect Sodium, Potassium and Cortisol levels in body: Sodium and potassium balance is maintained by Mineralocorticoids produced by Cortex. Therefore, abnormal levels show malfunctioning Adrenal Cortex. A report showing low cortisol, high potassium and low sodium confirms Addison's disease.
    • ACTH Stimulation Test: This test is conducted to know levels of ACTH produced and how well the adrenal glands respond to ACTH secretions.
    • Thyroid Function Test and testing for blood sugar levels is also carried out

  6. How does your doctor treat Addison's disease?

    Addison's disease is treated with prescribed medicines that make up for the reduced hormone production. These medicines need to be taken regularly. Frequent visits to your doctor for regulating medication is vital. Increased doses may prove otherwise.

    Associated problems such as diabetes or thyroid disorders also need to be treated and monitored separately. Early treatment of Addison's disease is crucial to prevent it from turning fatal.

  7. For how long do I have to take the medicines?

    Some of the medicines required for Addison's treatment may be required to be taken for a life time. Regular testing and monitoring of medicines is vital. The medication may be changed at times of stress, injury or surgery. Therefore, visiting your doctor after every 4-6 months to know about your adrenal health is always suggested.

  8. What to do if a person suddenly arrives at an adrenal crisis state?

    It is very much important that you do not allow yourself or anybody else to reach this state of crisis. However, if a person suddenly reaches this state, then make sure that anybody in the family injects corticosteroid doses after doctor consultation. This makes the disease less life threatening. The patient then needs to be rushed to a hospital for proper monitoring and care.

  9. Can children suffer from Addison's disease?

    Yes children can also suffer from Addison's disease. This brings about slow growth and late puberty in children who are diagnosed with this adrenal insufficiency.

    However, correct treatment measures can help to control adverse effects.

  10. Can Addison's disease be a birth defect?

    Yes. Addison's disease can be a birth defect when you acquire wrong genes from your parents. However, studies are still going on to know more about this condition and how it can be prevented.