Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison’s Disease) – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is adrenal insufficiency?
Adrenal insufficiency, also called Addison’s disease, is a disorder, in which the adrenal glands do not produce adequate amounts of certain hormones. Adrenal glands are located just above the kidneys. Adrenal insufficiency occurs in all age groups and affects both sexes.
An extreme form of adrenal insufficiency is called “adrenal crisis.”
What causes adrenal insufficiency?
Damage to the adrenal glands causes adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease). Any damage to these glands results in low productions of hormones, such as cortisol, aldosterone, and other hormones.
Certain rare genetic defects may also cause adrenal insufficiency.
The following conditions can cause damage to adrenal glands:
- Hemorrhage into the adrenal glands
- The immune system mistakenly attacking the adrenal glands (autoimmune disease)
- Infections such as tuberculosis, HIV, or fungal infections
What are the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency?
The following are the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease):
- Chronic diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Darkening of the skin in some places
- Dizziness when standing up
- Low-grade fever
- Extreme weakness, fatigue, and slow, sluggish movement
- The darker skin on the inside of the cheeks and lips (buccal mucosa)
- Salt craving (eating food with a lot of added salt)
- Weight loss with reduced appetite
How is adrenal insufficiency diagnosed?
The doctor will perform a physical exam and review the symptoms. He/she may order some blood tests, which may show:
- Increased potassium
- Low blood pressure, especially with a change in body position
- Low cortisol level
- Low sodium level
- Low pH
- Normal testosterone and estrogen levels, but low DHEA level
- High eosinophil count
The doctor may also order the following additional tests:
- Abdominal x-ray
- Abdominal CT scan
- Cosyntropin (ACTH) stimulation test
How is adrenal insufficiency treated?
Adrenal insufficiency is treated by replacement of the hormones that the adrenal glands are not producing.
Sometimes, your doctor may recommend increased dosage for a short time because of:
If a person has “adrenal crisis” (an extreme form of adrenal insufficiency), he/she must be injected with hydrocortisone immediately. Treatment for low blood pressure is usually needed as well. The doctor will teach the affected person how to inject hydrocortisone during the adrenal crisis.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.