Addisson’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

What Is Addison’s Disease?

The body keeps itself balanced by using hormones to perform various functions. Hormones work as a chemical messenger that is released directly into the bloodstream, which transports them to different tissues and organs and make them capable of executing normal functioning of the body. 

On top of the kidneys is the adrenal gland, which produces two of the essential hormones - cortisol and Aldosterone. When the adrenal glands produce insufficient amounts of these hormones, Addison's disease occurs. The condition is also alternatively called Primary Adrenal Insufficiency for this reason. 

Functions of the hormones secreted by the adrenal glands:

Cortisol: There are several essential functions carried out in the body with the help of cortisol -

  • Helps handle stress and rehabilitates balance subsequently
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Controls blood pressure
  • Monitors sleep/wake cycle
  • Increases sugar level of the blood
  • Admistrates the way your body uses proteins, fat, and carbohydrates

Aldosterone: Following are the functions performed by aldosterone - 

  • Balances the level of sodium and potassium in the body
  • Keeps the blood pressure under control
  • Keeps the body fluids balanced

What Causes Addison’s Disease?

Primary Adrenal Insufficiency: In this, the adrenal glands become unable to produce cortisol and aldosterone. These hormones help the body in various functions, as we have discussed above in this article.  

Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency: In this condition, there’s a problem with the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a small pea-sized projection at the base of the brain. It is responsible for sending a signal to the adrenal gland to produce cortisol hormone. When the adrenal gland doesn’t receive the message, it shrinks. This condition is called secondary adrenal insufficiency. 

Other causes include:

  • Fungal infections
  • TB and HIV-related infections
  • Bleeding of the adrenal glands
  • Genetic mutations
  • Removal of adrenal glands
  • Transmission of cancerous cells to the gland
  • Protein accumulation in the body

What Are The Symptoms Of Addison’s Disease?

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Mouth sores
  • Craving for salt
  • Fatigues
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar level
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hallucinations

How Is Addison’s Disease Diagnosed?

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Doctors will first ask for your medical history, and the signs and symptoms you are experiencing. Then he may take one or more of the following tests to confirm the disease:

Blood Test: The low levels of sodium, potassium, and cortisol is a clear indication of Addison's disease. To check this, the doctor will take a small sample of your blood and test the levels of the same. 

Consult an endocrinologist and get your blood tested for:

  • Low levels of glucose and aldosterone
  • High levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone(ACTH) 
  • The presence of positive adrenal antibodies

ACTH Stimulation Test: With this test, the doctor measures the cortisol levels in your blood before and after the vaccination of synthetic ACTH. 

Thyroid Function test: The doctor tests the thyroid gland located in your neck. The thyroid gland controls the growth and metabolism of the body. 

Imaging Tests: The doctor may take your CT scan to take three-dimensional pictures of the adrenal gland to detect its size and abnormalities. If you have adrenal insufficiency, the doctor might take an MRI of your pituitary gland.

How Addison’s Disease Is Treated?

There are several reasons to cause Addison’s disease. The treatment you will get solely depends on the cause of your illness. It is significant to follow the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor, or else the condition can worsen. 

If you don’t undergo proper treatment, it can lead to a medical emergency called Addisonian crisis. It increases the potassium level in the blood, lowers down the blood pressure and blood sugar levels. 


The doctor will prescribe specific medication to manage the levels of steroid hormones in your blood. 

Fludrocortisone Acetate is an oral corticosteroid given as a replacement to aldosterone. 

Methylprednisolone or prednisone is another oral corticosteroid that is given to replace cortisol. 

Domestic Care

Injectable corticosteroids are also available. Keep a medical kit in your home and ask your doctor to prescribe them for you. You can also wear a bracelet or keep a medical alert card in your wallet to make others informed of your health condition. 

Other therapies

In Addison's disease, people are unable to manage their stress levels. Many of the significant life events can induce stress like an injury or death of a loved one. You can practice yoga or medication to get some relief from anxiety. 

Keep in touch with your doctor

You may follow the treatment plan efficiently and still end up being in poor health. Keep consulting your doctor and know if you are taking the correct dosage of the replacement hormones. Your doctor may also change the scheduling of medication for better results. 

Have Frequent Checkups

Go for regular checkups for early diagnosis of many serious health problems. Early detection of the disease ensures adequate health treatment. 

How Can You Be Prepared For The Appointment

Jot Down Your Symptoms And Medical History: Convey your medical history and the symptoms you are currently experiencing. It will be excellent assistance for the doctor to understand your health condition. 

Jot Down Your Details: Share if you have recently undergone any serious life events. If you are on certain health supplements, kindly inform your doctor regarding the same.

Don’t Go Alone: You can go with your friend or family member to ensure that no information of the appointment is missed out.

Be Prepared With The Questions: Know the set of questions that you need to ask the doctor. None of your items should be left unanswered. 


Tags: Addisons disease treatment, Addisons disease diagnosis, Addisons disease symptoms