Addison\’s Disease

Your adrenal glands are just above your kidneys. The outside layer of these glands makes hormones that help your body respond to stress and regulate your blood pressure and the balance of water and salt in your body. Addison’s disease happens if the adrenal glands don’t make enough of these hormones.
A problem with your immune system usually causes Addison’s disease. The immune system mistakenly attacks your own tissues, damaging your adrenal glands. Other causes include infections and cancer.
Symptoms include:

  • Weight loss.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Fatigue that gets worse over time.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Patchy or dark skin.

Lab tests can confirm that you have Addison’s disease. If you don’t treat it, it can be fatal. You will need to take hormone pills for the rest of your life. If you have Addison’s disease, you should carry an emergency ID. It should say that you have the disease, list your medicines and say how much you need in an emergency.

Addison’s disease results when your adrenal glands are damaged, producing insufficient amounts of the hormone cortisol and often aldosterone as well. These glands are located just above your kidneys. As part of your endocrine system, they produce hormones that give instructions to virtually every organ and tissue in your body.

Your adrenal glands are composed of two sections. The interior (medulla) produces adrenaline-like hormones. The outer layer (cortex) produces a group of hormones called corticosteroids, which include glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and male sex hormones (androgens).

Some of the hormones the cortex produces are essential for life — the glucocorticoids and the mineralocorticoids.

  • Glucocorticoids

    These hormones, which include cortisol, influence your body’s ability to convert food fuels into energy, play a role in your immune system’s inflammatory response and help your body respond to stress.

  • Mineralocorticoids

    These hormones, which include aldosterone, maintain your body’s balance of sodium and potassium to keep your blood pressure normal.

  • Androgens

    These male sex hormones are produced in small amounts by the adrenal glands in both men and women. They cause sexual development in men and influence muscle mass, libido and a sense of well-being in both men and women.

PRIMARY ADRENAL INSUFFICIENCY

Addison’s disease occurs when the cortex is damaged and doesn’t produce its hormones in adequate quantities. Doctors refer to the condition involving damage to the adrenal glands as primary adrenal insufficiency.

The failure of your adrenal glands to produce adrenocortical hormones is most commonly the result of the body attacking itself (autoimmune disease). For unknown reasons, your immune system views the adrenal cortex as foreign, something to attack and destroy.