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Addison's disease

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Bernice Clark ▼ | June 6, 2015
Addison's disease
Endocrine glands    A rare endocrine disorder and life-threatening condition

There are many endocrine glands in the body such as the pituitary gland, thyroid, thymus, the pancreas and adrenal glands. Hormones are dominant, and it only requires a small amount of them to cause significant changes throughout the body.

When the adrenal gland fails to produce the cortisol hormones, a rare endocrine disorder occurs, Addison's disease.

Our all life depends on proper functioning of the adrenal gland and a wide variety of hormones it produces. Cortisol is a hormone vital for our health. It helps to regulate our blood pressure, it regulates our immune system, and it balances the effect of insulin in regulating our blood sugar level.

It is helping our body to deal with everyday stress from every possible source. One of the hormones of the adrenal cortex, aldosterone, helps our body to regulate salts in the blood and to control blood pressure.

Addison's disease is an autoimmune disease in which adrenal glands do not produce as much of the steroid hormones (such as cortisol and aldosterone) as they normally do. And for unknown reasons, our immune system views the outer part of the gland as foreign, something to attack and destroy.

In the early stage Addison's disease can be easily misdiagnosed as depression or schizophrenia.

Classic signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue include: fatigue and weakness (especially in the morning and afternoon), trouble waking up in the morning despite a full night's sleep, skin problems, muscle and bone loss and muscular weakness, increased allergies, depression, poor memory, a suppressed immune system, hormonal imbalance, low sex drive, decreased ability to handle stress, light-headedness when getting up from sitting or lying down, increased PMS or menopausal symptoms, and cravings for foods high in salt, sugar or fat.

Addison's disease symptoms usually develop over several months. However, they may appear suddenly at any age but most cases first develop in people aged between 30 and 50. As the level of cortisol gradually falls the patient may develop one or more of the following:

Muscle weakness and fatigue, weight loss and decreased appetite, darkening of the skin, low blood pressure (even fainting), salt craving, low blood sugar, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting,- muscle or joint pains, irritability, depression, body hair loss or sexual dysfunction in women, acute adrenal failure (Addisonian crisis).

The patient may become severely ill and may die if the cause of the symptoms is not diagnosed and treated quickly.

Blood tests may help point to Addison's disease. These include measurements of some of the salts in the body (sodium and potassium), sugar levels, calcium levels and morning cortisol levels. Doctors typically use an ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) test to check for problems with adrenal glands. However, the test only recognizes extreme underproduction or overproduction of hormone levels.

If Addison's disease is suspected, the adrenal gland can be stimulated by an injection of a substance similar to ACTH. If the adrenals are normal, then blood samples taken shortly after this injection should show a rise in cortisol. Addisonians do not have a rise in blood cortisol following the injection. The usual test performed in this way is called a Synacthen test.

Once tests show a lack of adrenal hormones, there will be tests done to find out why. The most common cause is antibodies which cause autoimmune Addison's disease. Other tests may be needed if it is thought that is tuberculosis, or a secondary cause of a low ACTH and cortisol level.

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

If you have Addison's disease, be sure that you take the right amount of cortisol replacement (hydrocortisone) every day. Also, make sure that any doctor knows you have Addison's disease especially if you are about to have any operation. You will need extra doses of hydrocortisone.

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