What is Addison’s Disease?

By Brooke Strickland

Addison’s disease is a serious disease that affects the adrenal glands.  The adrenal glands are a very important part of your body, as they make the hormones that help your body respond to stress.  They also help control blood pressure and the balance of water and salt in your body.  When the adrenals don’t make enough of these hormones, Addison’s disease occurs. 

Why do people get Addison’s disease?

There are several reasons as to why someone may develop this disease. 

  • Infections such as HIV, tuberculosis, and fungal infections
  • Tumors
  • Use of blood-thinning drugs
  • Immune system mistakenly attacks your own tissues, causing damage to the adrenals

What are the symptoms?

  • Changes in blood pressure and/or heart rate
  • Paleness
  • Extreme weakness, fatigue, and slow, sluggish movements
  • Fatigue that gets worse over time
  • Patchy or dark skin
  • Weight loss
  • Chronic diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Salt craving
  • Mouth lesions inside of the cheek

Addison’s disease, if not diagnosed and treated, can be fatal.  If you have symptoms or a family history of adrenal disease, consult your doctor immediately to make sure you’re not at risk.  Lab tests can be performed to confirm presence of the disease, which will likely show increased potassium levels, low cortisol levels, low serum sodium, and low blood pressure.  In other instances, your doctor may order an abdominal x-ray or CT scan.

How is it treated?

If you’re diagnosed with Addison’s disease, you will need to take hormone drugs for the rest of your life.  These drugs will control the symptoms of the disease.  Drug doses can never be skipped, as it is life threatening to do so, and many times when patients experience stress, surgery, injury, or infection, medication doses my be increased to control symptoms.  Many people that live with this disease are required to carry medical identification cards or tags with them specifying what dosage of medicine they should receive in a life-threatening situation.