(Adrenal Insufficiency; Adrenocortical Hypofunction; Chronic Adrenocortical Insufficiency; Hypoadrenalism)
Addison's disease is a rare disorder of the adrenal glands. In the case of Addision's, the glands do not produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone.
Addison's disease is the result of gradual damage to the adrenal cortex, the outer layer of the adrenal gland. This damage may be caused by:
- The body's immune system attacking the gland (autoimmune disease), which accounts for 85% of cases in developed countries
- Tuberculosis (major cause in the Third World countries)
Bleeding within the adrenal glands (related to use of anticoagulant medications and
- Surgical complication
- Congenital (present at birth) or genetic factors (enzyme defects, familial glucocorticoid insufficiency)
Cytomegalovirus(CMV) associated with AIDS
- Fungal infections, including:
- Cancer including metastases from:
- Long-term corticosteroid treatment
Medications (such as
ketoconazoleor etomidate) Radiationtreatment
- Chronic illness, including:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors include:
- Having the following autoimmune diseases can put you at risk for an associated autoimmune-based Addison’s disease:
- Severe stress
Symptoms may include:
- Extreme weakness, fatigue
- Weight loss
- Nausea or vomiting
- Chronic diarrhea
A severe complication of Addison's disease is the Addisonian or
- Severe abdominal, back, or leg pain
- Fainting or semicomatose state
- Severe low blood pressure
- Severe dehydration
- Severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Low blood sugar
- Generalized muscle weakness
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be performed.
Tests may include:
Blood and urine tests—to see if you have low levels of cortisol and aldosterone, high level of ACTH (ACTH is a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands), and to measure levels of:
- Anti-adrenal antibody
- Blood urea nitrogen levels
- ACTH stimulation test —measures cortisol in the blood and/or urine before and after an injection of ACTH
CT scanof the abdomen—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body, in this case the adrenal glands
Symptoms of Addison's disease can be controlled with medications. These drugs can replace the missing hormones. Medication needs to be taken for the rest of your life. They may be increased in times of stress.
Medications may include:
Immediate treatment of adrenal crisis includes:
- Salt water
Regular blood tests are needed to monitor your response to medication. Wear a medical alert bracelet in case of an emergency.
American Academy of Family Physicians
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Addison Society
Addison's disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/endo/pubs/addison/addison.htm . Accessed June 13, 2008.
Arlt W, Allolio B. Adrenal insufficiency. Lancet . 2003 May 31;361(9372):1881-1893.
Dorin RI, Qualls CR, Crapo LM. Diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency. Ann Int Med . 2003;138:3:194-214.
Salvatori R. Adrenal Insufficiency. JAMA . 2005;294:2481-2488.
Ten S, New M, Maclaren N. Clinical Review 130: Addison's disease. J Clin Endo Metabol . 2001;86:2909-2922.
Thomas Z, Fraser GL. An update on the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency and the use of corticotherapy in critical illness. Ann Pharmather . 2007;41:1456-65.
Last reviewed November 2008 by
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