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What is Addison's Disease?

Addison’s disease is a rare disorder of the endocrine or hormone-producing system. It is commonly known as adrenal insufficiency as there is an insufficient production of hormones, such as cortisol and aldosterone from the adrenal glands. Addison’s disease has been known to occur amongst different age groups and can affect both sexes equally.

What are its main signs and symptoms?

Symptoms for Addison disease commonly develop slowly and may include:

What are the main causes?

Addison’s disease is caused due to an insufficient production of hormones, such as cortisol and aldosterone. This usually happens when the cortex of the adrenal glands (glands located on top of the kidneys) is damaged and is therefore termed as primary adrenal insufficiency.

Some of the most common causes of adrenal gland failure are:

  • Bleeding in the adrenal glands.
  • Spread of cancer to the adrenal glands.
  • Tuberculosis.
  • Some infections of the adrenal glands caused due to agents, such as fungi, viruses, parasites and bacteria.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Usually, it is difficult to diagnose Addison’s disease in the early stages. However, based on your symptoms and medical history, the doctor will first examine you physically.

Following this, he may suggest certain biochemical laboratory tests to determine the levels of various hormones. You may also be suggested to go for an X-ray of the abdomen and pelvic regions to check for calcium deposition. You may also be suggested to go for adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test during which the production of cortisol is checked once the ACTH injection is administered to you to confirm the functioning of the adrenal glands.

Treatment of Addison’s disease broadly involves the following regimens:

  • Oral hormonal therapy, wherein oral drugs replace the hormones that the adrenal glands produce. You could be prescribed oral hydrocortisone tablets or mineralocorticoids.
  • You may also be suggested to take intravenous (administered into the veins) injections of hydrocortisone, which has been found to bring rapid improvement.
  1. Medicines for Addison Disease

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. [Internet]. Cleveland, Ohio. Addison's Disease
  2. Paolo WF Jr, Nosanchuk JD. Adrenal infections. Int J Infect Dis. 2006 Sep;10(5):343-53. Epub 2006 Feb 17. PMID: 16483815
  3. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Adrenal Gland Disorders
  4. Healthdirect Australia. Adrenal fatigue. Australian government: Department of Health
  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases [internet]: US Department of Health and Human Services; Adrenal Insufficiency & Addison’s Disease
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