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What is Addison’s Disease?

The rare Addison’s Disease stems from a lack of hormone production in the adrenal glands. The glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, fail to produce adequate amounts of cortisol and aldosterone – essential hormones for the correct organ and tissue function. 

Cortisol is necessary because it helps our bodies respond appropriately to daily stressors, both internal and external. Illness, injury, and recovery rely on cortisol production as does stable blood pressure, rhythmic heart beats, and glucose levels. Aldosterone is equally as essential as it maintains a correct balance of sodium and potassium in the body’s bloodstream.

Also known as “ adrenal insufficiency”,  Addison’s disease drastically impacts the lives of those affected by it. Hormones facilitate healthy bodily functions, from urination to the processing of food. With an improper balance or inadequate supply, our entire physical body is in danger. 

Addison’s disease affects both women and men of all ages, but is extremely rare. Only one in 100,000 people are diagnosed with Addison’s. Adrenal disease can present in two ways – primary adrenal insufficiency, which is Addison’s disease, or secondary adrenal insufficiency. Secondary adrenal insufficiency occurs when the pituitary gland undergoes damage and is unable to produce the hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropin). 

What are the causes for Addison’s Disease? How is it diagnosed?

The onset of the disorder can be triggered by a variety of things, including: 

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Tuberculosis
  • HIV
  • Fungal infections
  • Cancer
  • Bacterial infection
  • Steroid use
  • Pituitary tumors 

On average, 70% of Addison’s diseases were a result of complications from autoimmune diseases. The immune system goes after its own internal systems and can damage organs, tissues, and the adrenal glands. The damage done to the adrenal glands can inhibit the production of cortisol or aldosterone. 

Before the advent of the tuberculosis vaccination, this infection was one of the most common causes of Addison’s disease. As TB would spread through the body, it often  infected the adrenal glands and halted production of hormones, including that of cortisol and aldosterone. Those with HIV/AIDS were and still are at a higher risk of suffering from Addison’s disease. 

Some less common causes of adrenal insufficiency include: 

  • Cancer cells in adrenal glands
  • Removal of adrenal glands during surgery
  • Internal bleeding in adrenal glands
  • Genetic maladies that inhibit proper development of adrenal glands
  • Antifungal medicine or certain types of general anesthesia 

Individuals that suffer from other autoimmune disorders should pay particular attention to how their health progresses throughout life. Those with a weakened immune system as a result of Graves disease, type I diabetes, Lupus, or MS can be particularly susceptible to developing Addison’s disease. 

A primary care physician can help in diagnosing the disease through a variety of different means. Doctors may be able to diagnose Addison’s disease through conversation and analysis of physical or mental symptoms. Establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor can encourage a quicker, more accurate diagnosis. If needed, a doctor can also order blood tests to gauge potassium or sodium levels, which are often directly affected by Addison’s disease. They may also decide to perform imaging tests or track your hormone levels over a period of time. 

Symptoms of Addison’s Disease.

While there are a variety of physical and mental symptoms one may experience at the onset of Addison’s disease, the following are the most common: 

  • Weakening of muscles
  • Change in skin tone
  • Weight loss
  • Diminishing of appetite 
  • Drop in average heart rate or blood pressure
  • Fainting 
  • Mouth sores
  • Salt cravings
  • Fatigue 
  • Nausea and vomiting 

Neurological symptoms may manifest when Addison’s disease goes undiagnosed. Those experiencing the following symptoms should consult with their primary care doctor: 

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances

What are treatments for the symptoms of Addison’s Disease?

The treatment of Addison’s disease depends on the causation behind it. If your primary adrenal insufficiency was triggered by an autoimmune issue, the treatment and management of the disease may look very different than if it was caused by tumors on adrenal glands. 

Many treatments include taking prescription medications that combat inflammation and produce hormones. There is no cure for Addison’s disease yet and those that are diagnosed must undergo some kind of treatment and management for the rest of their lives. At home care is absolutely possibly under supervision of a doctor and with diligent attention. 

A missed dosage has the potential to result in adrenal crisis, or Addisonian crisis – a life threatening situation. An adrenal crisis can cause the afflicted individual to experience hallucinations, shock, coma, or a seizure. It’s extremely important to seek help immediately and receive an injection of hydrocortisone. An adrenal crisis requires hospitalization and monitoring until the patient is stable. 

Stress management is crucial for those dealing with Addison’s disease and certain triggering situations may cause blood pressure levels to rise, resulting in a different response to usual medication. Talk to your doctor about stress management and Addison’s disease. 

Orlando endocrinology services at UCF Health can help provide a diagnosis and treatment for those afflicted with Addison’s disease. Our team of expert doctors and nurse practitioners work with patients to ensure that each feels comfortable and cared for. UCF Health services offers additional treatment of endocrine disorders and adrenal disorders, facilitating a better quality of life for its patients. To schedule an appointment, visit our patient portal