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Alternative Names Return to topAdrenocortical hypofunction; Chronic adrenocortical insufficiency; Primary adrenal insufficiency
Definition Return to top
Addison's disease is a disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of their hormones.
Causes Return to top
The adrenal glands are small hormone-secreting organs located on top of each kidney. They consist of the outer portion (called the cortex) and the inner portion (called the medulla).
The cortex produces 3 types of hormones:
Addison's disease results from damage to the adrenal cortex. The damage causes the cortex to produce less of its hormones.
This damage may be caused by the following:
Risk factors for the autoimmune type of Addison's disease include other autoimmune diseases:
Certain genetic defects may cause these conditions.
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
Tests may show:
Other tests may include:
This disease may also change the results of the following tests:
Treatment Return to top
Treatment with replacement corticosteroids will control the symptoms of this disease. However, you will usually need to take these drugs for life. People often receive a combination of glucocorticoids (cortisone or hydrocortisone) and mineralocorticoids (fludrocortisone).
The health care provider may increase the medication dose in times of:
During an extreme form of adrenal insufficiency, adrenal crisis, you must inject hydrocortisone immediately. Supportive treatment for low blood pressure is usually needed as well.
Some people with Addison's disease are taught to give themselves an emergency injection of hydrocortisone during stressful situations. It is important for you to always carry a medical identification card that states the type of medication and the proper dose needed in case of an emergency.
Never skip doses of your medication for this condition, because life-threatening reactions may occur.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
With hormone replacement therapy, most people with Addison's disease are able to lead normal lives.
Possible Complications Return to top
Complications can occur if you take too little or too much adrenal hormone supplement.
Complications also may result from the following related illnesses:
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if:
If you have symptoms of adrenal crisis, give yourself an emergency injection of your prescribed medication. If it is not available, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.
Symptoms of adrenal crisis include:
References Return to top
Stewart PM. The adrenal cortex. In: Kronenberg H, Melmed S, Polonsky K, Larsen PR, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 14.Update Date: 3/18/2008 Updated by: Elizabeth H. Holt, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Yale University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.