Addison’s disease, also called adrenal insufficiency, is a rare, life threatening autoimmune disorder that occurs when your adrenal glands (located just above your kidneys) do not produce sufficient quantities of life sustaining hormones mainly cortisol and aldostrone.
It effects roughly 10 people in 1 million.
The damage to the adrenal glands happens slowly over time, and symptoms occur gradually. The most common symptoms include:
- Abdominal Pain
- Abnormal Menstrual Periods
- Craving for salty food
- Lightheadedness or dizziness when standing up
- Loss of appetite
- Low blood glucose
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Patches of dark skin, especially around scars, skin folds, and joints
- Sensitivity to cold
- Unexplained weight loss
- Worsening fatigue (extreme tiredness)
- Blood tests: These will be done to measure the levels of sodium, potassium, cortisol and ACTH in your blood.
- ACTH stimulation test: This tests the adrenal glands’ response after you are given a shot of artificial ACTH. If the adrenal glands produce low levels of cortisol after the shot, they may not be functioning properly.
The most common way to treat Addison’s Disease is the use of hormone replacement similar to those made by the adrenal glands; for instance, hydrocortisone, prednisone or dexamethasone pills to replace cortisol.
If you are also lacking aldosterone, you may receive fludrocortisone acetate pills. If you are taking fludrocortisone, your doctor might tell you to increase your salt intake, especially in hot and humid weather and after vigorous exercise. In emergencies and during surgery, the medicine is given intravenously (directly into a vein).
Some individuals use an insulin pump for their medication supplying them with a 24 hour subcutaneous supply of their life sustaining medications (steroids).
What is the prognosis for an individual with Addison’s Disease?
People who have Addison’s disease will need to take medicine for the rest of their lives.
A medical alert bracelet is essential to identify Addison’s disease in an emergency situation.
It is essential to always have extra medicine on hand in case of illness, injury and simple need for more. Emergency shots of cortisol are required quickly to save the individuals life during an Addisonian Crisis.