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: Deborah, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: April 25

I was diagnosed with Addison"s disease 3 years ago at the age of 51. I had noticed increased pigmentation to my skin, fatigue, frequent episodes of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and weight loss for a few years before diagnosis. I related these symptoms to overworking and age. I ended up in an adrenal crisis from influenza and was hospitalized due to low sodium level. The physician performed lab tests and finally came up with the diagnosis of Addison"s disease. I remember how much better I felt after receiving steroids.

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Comment from: sb, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: May 30

I seemed to be nauseated, had diarrhea, or I was vomiting most of my waking hours. I was so exhausted, weak, and achy and many times felt faint, with low blood pressure. Always being a very light sleeper for as long as I can remember, I should have noticed how deeply I was sleeping when my sister could not get me to answer my door for almost a half hour. I went to my primary care physician and had lost over 30 pounds and had no appetite and thought I was dying! I was depressed and scared to death. My doctor said he would look at my chart (I had been seeing him for over 12 years, fairly sizeable chart) from front to back and promised he would do everything within his power to find out what was wrong with me. He did, after much blood work and urine tests... Addison"s disease! I got on hydrocortisone and have done better but I"m still so tired all the time. But the nausea, diarrhea, extremely low blood pressure and loss of appetite have gone. And my cardiologist found (when I wore a monitor) that at night my heart rate would go down to 22 and there were times that my heart did not beat at all for 8 seconds. So now I have a pacemaker. I don"t know if that is related to the Addison"s. I was diagnosed in July of 2011 with the first stage of Addison"s. Is there a second or a third stage or does something else happen! At the time I was diagnosed with Addison"s my doctor said I had the first stage of kidney disease. So, is that what is next? I now have so much swelling in my ankles and calves that my body seriously almost looks deformed. And, oh yes, I do take a fluid pill and it stills happens every day!

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