Addison’s disease is a condition caused by improper functioning or a disease of the adrenal glands. This adrenal abnormality is characterized by extreme emaciation, fatigue, anemia, and a deep bronzing of the skin. This article provides an overview of Addison’s Disease, including an understanding of the symptoms, how it is diagnosed and available treatment options.
Addison’s disease occurs in women and men equally when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone cortisol and, occasionally, the hormone aldosterone. The disease is also called adrenal insufficiency, or hypocortisolism.
The earliest symptom is usually tiredness. This becomes progressively worse until physical effort becomes quite difficult. Other symptoms include a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, alternating constipation and diarrhea, headaches, dizziness, inability to sleep and pains in the stomach, lower back and extremities. Low blood pressure and skin changes (the aforementioned darkening of the skin) may also present themselves with this condition.
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands which are located just above the kidneys. The main purpose of Cortisol is to help the body deal with stress. It also works to help the body maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular function, and helps slow the immune system’s inflammatory response. Cortisol also helps balance the effects of insulin in breaking down sugar and helps regulate the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
When Addison’s Disease is suspected, laboratory tests will be conducted by a physician – possibly including X-rays and other screening procedures – including a Tuberculosis skin test. Upon diagnosis, treatment will involve replacing the hormones that the adrenal glands are failing to produce.
The hormones are taken orally and will most likely need to be taken regularly and continuously. The correct dosage will be recommended by the physician and changes to the patient’s diet may also be required.
Since this is a very serious medical condition, those with Addison’s disease will need to see a doctor regularly and will need to take special care and precautions should they need surgery, or should other medical conditions develop. Women with Addison’s disease should talk with their doctor prior to becoming pregnant and, during pregnancy, special considerations will also need to be taken to insure a healthy mother and baby.
Doctors will also likely advise those with Addison’s disease to carry identification stating the condition when traveling and to possibly wear a descriptive bracelet stating the condition in case of a medical emergency.