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Addison’s Disease (Adrenal Insufficiency) 

Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol and aldosterone. Two of the hormones produced by your adrenal glands are cortisol and aldosterone. These hormones help to maintain a healthy immune system, blood pressure, glucose and sodium levels in the blood, heart function and more. Addison’s disease—also known as adrenal insufficiency—is a rare autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the outside of the adrenal glands, which then can’t produce enough of those hormones. While anyone can get this disease, it is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 30 to 50. 

Causes of Addison’s Disease 

There are many known causes of Addison’s disease. These include: 

  • Injury to the adrenal glands
  • Surgical removal of the adrenal glands
  • Cancer
  • Infections, including tuberculosis
  • Amyloidosis
  • Genetics 

Symptoms of Addison’s Disease 

Addison’s disease does not strike quickly. Symptoms usually appear gradually over time and can mimic those of other illnesses, but ignoring them for too long can lead to life-threatening acute adrenal failure (Addisonian crisis).  

Signs of Addison’s disease include: 

  • Darkening of the skin 
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Craving salty foods 
  • Low blood sugar 
  • Extreme fatigue 
  • Weight loss 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Nausea 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Abdominal and muscle pain 
  • Depression 

In an Addisonian crisis, symptoms may include: 

  • Extreme weakness 
  • Pain in the lower back, legs and abdomen 
  • Vomiting and diarrhea 
  • Dehydration 
  • Confusion 
  • Delirium 

Diagnosing Addison’s Disease 

If a discussion of symptoms and a physical examination leads your doctor to believe you may have Addison’s disease, several tests and imaging procedures may be ordered. These include: 

  • Blood tests 
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation tests 
  • CT scans 
  • X-rays 

Treating Addison’s Disease 

While Addison’s disease can lead to life-threatening shock if left unchecked, it is treatable with hormone replacement therapy. The endocrinology team at Tampa General Hospital has the expertise and cutting-edge technology to diagnose and treat the full range of adrenal disorders, including Addison’s disease.