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Addison’s disease

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Addison’s disease is defined by the body’s inability to produce hormones that are required for functioning. The adrenal glands, small gland located in the body just above the kidneys, are responsible for the production of hormones such as cortisol. While Addison’s disease can strike at any age, it most often initially occurs in patients between the ages of 30 and 50.

ADDISON'S DISEASE SYMPTOMS

The initial symptoms associated with Addison’s disease begin as mild annoyances but gradually build in intensity as the body continuously attempts to function without the appropriate amount of hormones in the body. Symptoms may begin as fatigue, irritability, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure that may involve fainting, weight loss usually accompanied by a loss of appetite, muscle weakness, cravings for salt, low blood sugar, darkening of the skin, and depression. As the disease continues to develop patients may experience symptoms such as severe vomiting, severe diarrhea, dehydration as a result of the vomiting and diarrhea, low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, or pain in the legs, lower back, or abdomen. In some cases, Addison’s disease can lead to coma or death.

ADDISON'S DISEASE CAUSES

In most cases, Addison’s disease is the result of an immune system that has become confused. Just like all autoimmune diseases, patients with Addison’s disease develop an immune system that attacks the adrenal glands and render them incapable of delivering an appropriate amount of necessary hormones. In some cases, a pituitary gland disease can also compromise the adrenal gland, resulting secondary Addison’s disease. Adrenal gland failure (which is commonly confused with Addison’s disease) can be caused by tuberculosis, infections that reach the adrenal glands, cancers which spread and involve the adrenal glands, and internal bleeding that reaches the adrenal glands.
Addison’s disease
Image: Addison’s Disease

ADDISON'S DISEASE DIAGNOSIS

Blood tests are effective for measuring the appropriate or lack of levels of hormones in the body. This can help diagnose Addison’s disease. Physicians may need to rule out possible other causes for adrenal gland deficiencies and may order tests such as CT scans, ACTH stimulation tests to attempt to trick the adrenal glands into delivering an appropriate amount of hormones in the body, as well as insulin induced hypoglycemia tests. Testing usually occurs when there is not evidence of Addison’s disease despite symptoms.

The earlier a diagnosis of Addison’s disease can be determined the better chance the patient has in combating its effects as well as a better chance of recovery and a basically normal life. Cases of Addison’s disease which are diagnosed early can often be treated with the use of corticosteroids or another alternative method of delivering cortisol back to the body. Additionally patients may require the use of medications such as androgen hormone replacements.

ADDISON'S DISEASE TREATMENT

Severe cases of Addison’s disease may require an increase in aggressive treatment. The combination of low blood sugar, low blood pressure, and high levels of potassium in the blood require prompt medical attention and is considered an Addison’s disease crisis. In cases like these, treatment may include a combination administering of saline, dextrose, and hydrocortisone. Without this simple but effective treatment method, patients in Addison’s crisis may face serious health consequences or even death.


Untreated or uncontrolled Addison’s disease can lead to life affecting of life threatening complications. If blood glucose levels in the body drop fast enough, patients may enter a coma or die from the oversight of not recognizing Addison’s disease from hypoglycemia.

Patients with Addison’s disease should carry a medical alert bracelet in the event of an emergency. Patients should also stay in close contact with their physician and report any changes in condition. Patients should not leave their homes without sufficient medication in case they experience an urgent crisis while away.
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