Our body uses different hormones to convert the things we eat and drink into usable energy. One of these hormones is called cortisol, which breaks down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates (as well as helping our immune system work properly).
Cortisol is manufactured in our adrenal glands, located above each kidney, and regulated by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in our brain. If a body fails to produce enough cortisol, or another hormone called aldosterone, it can lead to a condition called Addison’s Disease.
Overview of Addison's Disease
Also called adrenal insufficiency, Addison’s Disease can cause severe stomach pain, low blood pressure, weakness, and even kidney failure. Addison’s disease can be caused by cancer or fungal infections, conditions in endocrine or pituitary glands, or by the immune system attacking the adrenal glands.
Fortunately, Addison’s disease is rare and can be treated, helping those who suffer from the condition to live a happy, healthy, and normal life.
In addition to the symptoms already mentioned, many of the symptoms associated with Addison’s Disease are shared by other conditions, including fatigue and dizziness, weight loss and lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and low blood sugar levels. There are a few side effects, however, that are more specific to Addison’s Disease, including dark skin and bluish-black coloration around the nipples, mouth, and genitals.
If someone notices any of these signs, he or she should talk a primary care physician about adrenal insufficiency. Addison’s Disease can be confirmed through blood and urine tests, as well as x-ray, ultrasound, and MRI.
Since Addison’s Disease is caused by a hormone deficiency, treatment involves taking replacement cortisol and perhaps aldosterone to supplement what a body's adrenal glands are not producing. A physician may first prescribe corticosteroids, which are a synthetic hormone resembling cortisol. These drugs can be taken orally or through an IV.
Addison’s Disease can suddenly get worse when a body is stressed due to an illness or injury, or if medication changes. These sudden attacks can lead to shock, seizures, and comas, so it is a good idea for someone with Addison's Disease to always carry an emergency supply of cortisol.
Secondary Adrenal Insufficency
Addison’s Disease is one of two types of adrenal insufficiency. The other type is known as Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency, which starts when the pituitary gland ceases to make enough of the adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH). As a result, damage is created to the adrenal glands.
Both Addison's Disease and Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency are rare, but can lead to serious health concerns.
© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.