Addison’s disease affects the adrenal glands, located above your kidneys. Adrenal glands make hormones that help you manage stress (cortisol) and regulate salt and water to control blood pressure (aldosterone). When Addison’s disease injures your adrenal glands, you can’t make enough hormones (adrenal insufficiency).
In addition to managing mood and stress, adrenal hormones control metabolism, growth and tissue functions. They also help regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and produce androgens or male type hormones.
Addison’s disease affects men and women. It can happen at any age but usually occurs in people 30 to 50 years of age.
Addison’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that makes your immune system attack its own adrenal glands, meaning it can’t produce adrenal hormones. This is called adrenal insufficiency. Other causes of this include:
- Hemorrhage or bleeding
- Medical conditions, such as pituitary disorders
Addison’s disease symptoms get worse over time and can mimic other conditions. Your doctor will use lab and imaging tests to diagnose this chronic disease. Blood tests show hormone and mineral levels and may detect the antibodies attacking your adrenal glands. CT or MRI scans reveal adrenal or pituitary disorders. Your doctor may give you an injection to see how your body responds to higher hormone levels.
Addison’s disease symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite and salt craving
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Low blood pressure, dizziness or fainting
- Blotchy or darkened skin
- Nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain
Addison’s disease treatment includes hormone-replacement pills or injections. Options include:
- Oral corticosteroids – Hydrocortisone, prednisone or cortisone acetate to replace cortisol and fludrocortisone to replace aldosterone
- Corticosteroid injections – Used if you cannot keep pills down.
Doctors advise adequate sodium levels, especially if you have digestive issues. Sodium levels can also drop during heavy exercise, hot weather or stress.
Without proper care, you can have an Addisonian crisis – a medical emergency marked by low blood sugar, high potassium and low blood pressure. Treatment may include IV injections of:
- Saline solution
- Dextrose (sugar)
Ready for an Appointment?
If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of Addison’s disease, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.
Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat Addison’s disease.