Addison's Disease - Symptoms

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What are the signs and symptoms 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

Addison's disease can cause irritability and depression. Because of salt loss, a craving for salty foods also is common. Hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose, is more severe in children than in adults. In women, menstrual periods may become irregular or stop.

Because the symptoms progress slowly, they are usually ignored until a stressful event like an illness or an accident causes them to become worse. This is called an addisonian crisis, or acute adrenal insufficiency. In most cases, symptoms are severe enough that patients seek medical treatment before a crisis occurs. However, in about 25 percent of patients, symptoms first appear during an addisonian crisis.

Symptoms of an addisonian crisis include:

  • sudden penetrating pain in the lower back, abdomen, or legs
  • severe vomiting and diarrhea
  • dehydration
  • low blood pressure
  • loss of consciousness

Left untreated, an addisonian crisis can be fatal.

Return to Addison's Disease

See what others are saying

Comment from: Janey, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: November 18

I had a biopsy done on my chest area about 1990. The problem was about the size of a pimple. The surgeon cut in from both ends and removed the spot. I had a scar about an inch long which looked so bad I always kept it covered with higher necks or a scarf. I developed 3 large keloids on the scar which not only looked bad, but were so painful and would wake me up at night. I finally had reconstruction surgery as I could no longer stand the pain. My scar is now 3 1/2 inches long and I was told it would take 6 to 8 months to heal. I am hoping this will take away a lot of the pain and not develop into something worse. More research is needed.

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Comment from: Roxanne, Female (Patient) Published: December 08

I was just diagnosed with Addison's disease. To be honest, I thought I was pregnant and that the tests were just missing it. For the last 6 months my health has been deteriorating. It started with extreme nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, strong sense of smell, food cravings and aversions, loss of appetite, faintness, headaches, backaches, cramping, frequent urination, sensitivity to touch and a loss of menstruation. (Can anyone blame me for thinking of pregnancy first?) I was screened for thyroid disorders, diabetes, cancer, tumors/cysts on ovaries, breasts, pituitary gland, anemia, vitamin deficiency, celiac, etc. The last three weeks the dizziness got worse, to the point where I have been holding on to the wall to get anywhere, and spend hours on my kitchen floor because I am too tired and dizzy to get up after collapsing. When I went to the doctor he watched as my head lolled around on my body, confusion as I tried to answer his questions, and my blood pressure dropped upon standing. The vertical tracking in my eyes lagged, my speech was slurred and I had weakness in my arms, shaking in my legs. He asked about discoloration of the skin, and I pointed to the dark spots that have recently appeared on my face. I also have it on my nipples, armpits and on my stomach, new freckles all over my body, as well as the sudden appearance of cherry angiomas (red dots), and darkening of old stretch marks and scars. My weight hasn't changed, but my breasts have grown 2 cup sizes, I have been lactating and my abdomen is distended (odd, I know) which my doctor thinks may be swelling, but refuses to rule out the possibility of a pituitary tumor. I am awaiting a head CT. I just started on hydrocortisone today, and got a referral for an endocrinologist. I hope it helps relieve this soon.

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