by Kimberley Allen R.N.
Addison’s disease is a disorder of the endocrine system. The endocrine system iss the system of glands that produce the different hormones in our body’s, like the thyroid gland. In addisons disease the adrenal glands are affected. They do not produce enough of the steroid hormones, specifically cortisol and aldosterone. Addison’s disease affects approximately 1 in 100,000 people in the US. It can develope at any age and affects both men and women.
Addison’s disease occurs when there is damage to the adrenal gland(s), specifically the area that produces hormones known as the adrenal cortex. There can be several potential causes for the damage including, an autoimmune disorder, certain chronic infections like TB, tumors, severe blood loss and certain medications.
The most common risk factor for addisons disease is a pre-existing autoimmune disorder, especially one that involves other glands in the endocrine system like the pituitary gland or thyroid gland. These account for approximately 70% of all diagnosed cases.
Addison’s disease is divided into 2 categories. Primary and secondary adrenal insufficiency. Primary adrenal insufficiency occurs when there is a disorder that affects the adrenal glands themselves. Seconday adrenal insufficiency occurs when the pituitary gland is unable to produce enough of the hormone ACTH.
In the majority of cases the symptoms of Addison’s disease presents slowly, gradually as the hormone production continues to decline. The four most common characteristics of Addison’s disease are chronic increasing fatigue, muscle wealness, poor appetite and weight loss. Approximately half of the time people with addisons disease will also experience nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea. As the disease progresses other symptoms that occur include whats called orthopnea, this is when you B/P drops when rising from sitting to standing. The skin may start to darken, even areas that are not expose to the sun.
Unfortunately, because the disease manifests so gradually the symptoms are frequently ignored until a stressful event causes whats called an “Addisonian crisis”. The symptoms that a crisi is occuring include sudden onset of severe pain in the abdomen, lower back and legs, severe vomiting and diarrhea that causes dehydration, a very low B/P and even loss of conciousness. An Addisonian crisis is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention and can be fatal if left untreated.
Addison’s disease is treated by replacing the hormones that the adrenal gland is not producing. There are different hormone replacements available, all are taken orally and are effective in controlling the symptoms. Your Dr will help you decide which treatment is best for you. Today, because of the improvements in treatment, the life expectancy of people suffering with Addison’s disease has significantly improved over the last 50 years.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.