Are you experiencing muscle weakness, tiredness, sudden weight loss, or darkening of the skin? If yes, these are the signs of Addison’s disease.
It is a rare disease that is caused when the adrenal gland does not produce enough cortisol and aldosterone. While this disease is treatable, it can lead to an Addisonian crisis which can be life-threatening.
Learn how you can manage this disease in this article.
Addison’s disease is also known as adrenal insufficiency, which means the adrenal gland is not able to produce hormones (especially cortisol and aldosterone). These hormones are synthesized by the adrenal cortex (which is a part of the adrenal gland) to regulate many functions in the body.
Addison’s disease is caused when our body’s immune system thinks of the adrenal gland as an intruder and starts attacking it. That damages the adrenal gland, and it is not able to produce cortisol and aldosterone. It is known as primary adrenal insufficiency.
Other conditions that cause primary adrenal insufficiency:
- Any infection in the body
- Cancer and tumors
- Certain medications that make the blood thin (used to control clotting in the blood)
- Long use of glucocorticoids.
There are other causes of Addison’s disease as well. When the pituitary gland is not able to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)- this hormone is used to regulate the production of cortisol by controlling the adrenal gland; this condition is called secondary adrenal gland sufficiency. Other conditions that cause secondary adrenal insufficiency, include:
- Medication for chronic illness
- Brain injury
Some risk factors that increase the chances of developing Addison’s disease include:
- It can affect any age but is mostly found in people between 30 to 50 years old.
- People who have autoimmune diseases such as asthma, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), type 1 diabetes, pernicious anemia, etc. are more at risk.
- Taking anticoagulant medication for blood thinning.
- Any surgery that removes part of the adrenal gland
- Have a chronic infection such as tuberculosis.
As the damage to the adrenal gland happens slowly, with time symptoms of Addison’s disease start to show up, including:
- Muscle weakness and pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Start darkening skin color
- Sudden weight loss and loss of appetite
- Mouth sores
- Slow heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Decrease in blood sugar levels
- Sleeping problems
If you have these symptoms, you should visit the doctor to diagnose your condition and know if it is Addison’s disease or not.
To diagnose your condition, the doctor asks about the symptoms you have and your medical history. Symptoms like dark patches are one of the common signs to diagnose this condition. They might run some tests to confirm your condition, including:
- Blood test: To check the levels of sodium, potassium, cortisol, or ACTH in your blood.
- ACTH stimulation test: To check the response of the adrenal gland when a shot of artificial ACTH is given. If the adrenal gland shows low levels of cortisol, then it is not working properly.
- Insulin-induced hypoglycemia test: This test is done to measure secondary gland insufficiency; if the symptoms you are feeling happen from the pituitary gland instead of the adrenal gland. In this test, they measure blood sugar levels after giving injections of fast-acting insulin, which can cause a drop in blood sugar levels and an increase in cortisol.
- Computed tomography (CT scan): It shows the image inside of the adrenal gland and pituitary gland and the damage happens to them or they get infected.
Your treatment of Addison’s disease is done by hormonal replacement therapy (HRT). Medications like hydrocortisone and prednisone are used to replace weak cortisol in the body to mimic the functions of cortisol. You need to take these medications for your whole life. Fludrocortisone is used to replace aldosterone. For an emergency, you should carry an injection of medication to use. The dose of the medication depends on your physical condition. If you have an infection, trauma, chronic disease, or surgery of the adrenal gland; it can affect the amount of dose you can take.
If you’re taking fludrocortisone, you should increase your consumption of salt, especially when you’re working out, and stay outdoors mostly or during hot and humid weather because it can decrease your sodium levels.
Addison’s disease is manageable if you notice the symptoms and start taking early treatment. But if you ignore all the signs and symptoms, it can be life-threatening. So, keep the symptoms in mind and get a diagnosis whenever you note some of them.
Want to know more about Addison’s disease? At Doral Health and Wellness, we have the best endocrinologists to help you manage your condition. For more information, you can visit us at 1797 Pitkin Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11212, or call us on +1-347-384-5690. You can also visit our website at https://doralhw.org if you have any queries.