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Addison’s disease: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About addison’s disease

Addison’s disease is a rare hormonal disorder characterised by insufficient synthesis of certain hormones like cortisol and/or aldosterone. This disorder may hamper the functioning of many organs of the body.

Addison’s disease: Incidence, age and sex

Addison’s disease is an uncommon disorder which may afflict any age group, from a child to an adult, though it seems to have a slightly higher propensity towards people of 30 to 40 years of age. No apparent sex predilection is noted.

Signs and symptoms of addison’s disease: Diagnosis

The onset of clinical symptoms is gradual in onset. Loss of appetite, weight loss, exhaustion are some major complaints. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting and occasionally diarrhoea. Occasionally, mood disorders like increased irritability or depression may occur. Some women also complain of menstrual irregularities. The doctor on physical examination, may find a drop in blood pressure and darkening of the skin at some sites like knee, elbow or knuckles.

Causes and prevention of addison’s disease

Addison’s disease is an endocrine problem in which adrenal glands are unable to synthesise adequate amounts of the requisite hormones. Adrenal glands are tiny organs positioned on top of each kidney and are responsible for synthesising cortisol and mineralocorticoids.

Cortisol also called ‘stress hormone’ is an extremely important hormone affecting almost all organs of the body. It is essential for the normal functioning of the heart, maintaining normal blood pressure, metabolism of carbohydrates, fat and proteins. Moreover cortisol plays an important role in the breakdown and utilisation of ‘sugar’ by the body tissues. Reduced production of mineralocorticoids may cause disruption of the normal fluid balance in the body and also lower the blood pressure.

There may be several causes leading to the reduced production of these hormones, of which adrenal gland destruction is the primary reason. Any disruption of the pituitary gland function may also lead to Addison’s disease. Other causes like tuberculosis, auto immune disorders may also play a role.

Addison’s disease: Complications

When cortisol drops to a very low level, it may lead to sudden onset of severe, sharp pain in the lower back and abdomen, accompanied by vomiting and diarrhoea. This condition called ‘Addison’s crisis, is a medical emergency and may result in death, if not treated. Prompt treatment is needed to prevent the patient from developing an extreme drop in blood pressure and dehydration.

Addison’s disease: Treatment

Once your doctor suspects Addison’s disease by detailed medical history and physical examination, he may like to confirm it by some diagnostic tests. Blood test will confirm reduced levels of cortisol and imaging modalities like X-rays and CT scan of adrenal and pituitary glands may be helpful to investigate the exact cause.

Substitution of the deficient hormone remains the mainstay of treatment. Medications like hydrocortisone and aldosterone in tablet formulations may be given to the patient. A patient with Addison’s crisis is given prompt treatment, which is aimed at improving his hydration status. Moreover, an injectable form of cortisol is also given, which rapidly assists in resuming the normal functioning of the body.