Addison's Disease

Addison's disease facts*

*Addison's Disease Facts by

  • Addison's disease, also called adrenal insufficiency, or hypocortisolism, occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone cortisol and, in some cases, the hormone aldosterone.
  • Addison's disease is an endocrine or hormonal disorder characterized by weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and sometimes darkening of the skin.
  • Most cases of Addison's disease are caused by autoimmune disorders. As a result, often both glucocorticoid (cortisol) and mineralocorticoid (aldosterone) hormones are lacking.
  • Tuberculosis (TB), an infection which can destroy the adrenal glands, accounts for about 20 percent of cases of primary adrenal insufficiency in developed countries.
  • Secondary adrenal insufficiency is more common than primary adrenal insufficiency due to a lack of ACTH.
  • Symptoms of Addison's disease begin gradually and include chronic, worsening fatigue, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
  • Symptoms of an addisonian crisis, or acute adrenal insufficiency, include sudden penetrating pain in the lower back, abdomen, or legs, severe vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, low blood pressure, and loss of consciousness.
  • Addison's is diagnosed with blood tests and/or a CT scan.
  • Treatment of Addison's disease involves replacing, or substituting, the hormones the adrenal glands are not making. Cortisol is replaced orally with hydrocortisone tablets, and aldosterone is replaced with oral doses of a mineralocorticoid called fludrocortisone acetate (Florinef).
  • People with Addison's may wish to wear a descriptive warning bracelet or neck chain to alert emergency personnel.

What is Addison's disease?

Addison's disease is an endocrine or hormonal disorder that occurs in all age groups and afflicts men and women equally. The disease is characterized by weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and sometimes darkening of the skin in both exposed and nonexposed parts of the body.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2014

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Addison's Disease Symptoms and Signs

What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Addison's Disease?

The symptoms of adrenal insufficiency usually begin gradually. Characteristics of the disease are:

  • chronic, worsening fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss

About 50 percent of the time, one will notice:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Other symptoms include:

  • low blood pressure that falls further when standing, causing dizziness or fainting
  • skin changes in Addison's disease, with areas of hyperpigmentation, or dark tanning, covering exposed and nonexposed parts of the body; this darkening of the skin is most visible on scars; skin folds; pressure points such as the elbows, knees, knuckles, and toes; lips; and mucous membranes...

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