Addison's disease

Addison's disease is a disorder that occurs when your body produces insufficient amounts of certain hormones produced by your adrenal glands. In Addison's disease, your adrenal glands produce too little cortisol and often insufficient levels of aldosterone as well.

Also called adrenal insufficiency, Addison's disease occurs in all age groups and affects both sexes. Addison's disease can be life-threatening.

Treatment for Addison's disease involves taking hormones to replace the insufficient amounts being made by your adrenal glands, in order to mimic the beneficial effects produced by your naturally made hormones.

Symptoms Causes

Addison's disease symptoms usually develop slowly, often over several months, and may include:

  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite
  • Darkening of your skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Low blood pressure, even fainting
  • Salt craving
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Muscle or joint pains
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Body hair loss or sexual dysfunction in women

Acute adrenal failure (addisonian crisis)

Sometimes, however, the signs and symptoms of Addison's disease may appear suddenly. In acute adrenal failure (addisonian crisis), the signs and symptoms may also include:

  • Pain in your lower back, abdomen or legs
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea, leading to dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • High potassium (hyperkalemia)

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you have signs and symptoms that commonly occur in people with Addison's disease, such as:

  • Darkening areas of skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Severe fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Salt cravings
  • Muscle or joint pains

Your doctor can help determine whether Addison's disease or some other medical condition may be causing these problems.

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