Addison’s Disease is a hormonal or endocrine disorder that can afflict people of all age groups and sex. The disease is characterized by fatigue, muscle weakness, weight loss, low blood pressure, and darkening of the skin. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Dizziness and fainting can occur because of the blood pressure dropping upon standing. Irritability and depression are also symptoms of Addison’s Disease.
Addison’s Disease is also called adrenal insufficiency or hypocortisolism because the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone cortisol and the hormone aldosterone. You will often hear with CFS that cortisol levels are low. I have taken cortisol daily now for over two years.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands which are located above the kidneys. The most important role of cortisol is to help the body respond to stress. Cortisol is also necessary to maintain blood pressure, cardio function and it helps to slow the immune system’s inflammatory response.
Aldosterone is also a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. The purpose of aldosterone is to help maintain the balance of blood pressure, water and salt in the body by helping the kidney retain sodium and excrete potassium.
Diagnosing Addison’s Disease
Addison’s can be difficult to diagnosis in the beginning. A doctor will suspect Addison’s by reviewing medical history and the darkening of the skin. Blood tests will determine an Addison’s diagnosis – an ACTH stimulation test and a CRH stimulation test.
Treating Addison’s Disease
Addison’s Disease patients will need to take the hormones that their adrenal glands are not making. Cortisol is taken once to twice daily. If the aldosterone levels are low, the patient will be given Florinef to take daily.
Complications of Addison’s Disease
An Addisonian crisis, or acute adrenal insufficiency, occurs when the symptoms of Addison’s disease suddenly become worse. The condition can result in death if left untreated. Symptoms of an Addisonian crisis include penetrating pain in the lower back, pain in the abdomen and legs, severe vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, hypoglycemia, low blood pressure and loss of consciousness.
Prognosis of Addison’s Disease
With adequate replacement therapy, most people with Addison’s disease are able to lead normal lives.
Resources for Addison’s Disease
National Adrenal Diseases Foundation