The adrenal glands make hormones that help the body respond to stress and regulate blood pressure and water and salt balance. Addison disease happens if the adrenal glands produce too little cortisol and often insufficient levels of aldosterone as well.
The failure of the adrenal glands producing hormones is most commonly the result of the body attacking itself (autoimmune disease). Other causes may include tuberculosis, infections of the adrenal glands and cancer.
Symptoms may include weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue that gets progressively worse, low blood pressure, patchy or dark skin.
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2. Symptoms and Treatments
Addison's disease symptoms usually (but not always) develop slowly over time and may include:
Weight loss and decreased appetite
Darkening of your skin (hyperpigmentation)
Low blood pressure, even fainting
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting
Muscle or joint pains
Body hair loss or sexual dysfunction in women
The symptoms of Addison's disease may appear suddenly, this is known as acute adrenal failure (addisonian crisis). Immediately seek medical attention if this is possibly the case. The symptoms of acute adrenal failure may also include:
Pain in the lower back, abdomen or legs, severe vomiting and diarrhea, leading to dehydration, low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, high potassium (hyperkalemia) and low sodium (hyponatremia).
Note: Always seek advice from a doctor before beginning any listed treatments. Treatments can affect everyone differently.
Medical Treatment Options For Adrenal Insufficiency Include:
Working with a trained practitioner can assist you to develop skills to calm anxiety and can also equip you with knowledge to find your next steps towards wellness. Please ensure that you find a practitioner who understands how to navigate the territory of complex chronic health conditions.
Hormone Replacement Therapy for Addison's Disease:
Cortisol is used to replace the levels of steroid hormones the body isn't producing. This is done via oral corticosteroids such as prednisone or hydrocortisone usually orally but sometime intravenously. Some patients also require Aldosterone replacement with a mineralocorticoid called fludrocortisone acetate taken orally.
Adisonian Crisis Treatment:
During adrenal crisis low levels of blood pressure, sodium, blood glucose, and high levels of potassium can cause great danger, immediate IV injections of steroids along with IV saline solutions of sugars in the form of dextrose may be given for rapid improvement.
Diet for Addison's Disease:
Some patients can benefit from a high sodium diet to improve Aldosterone levels.
Patients who use steroids face an increase risk of Osteoporosis and this risk may be lowered by consuming enough calcium and vitamin D in their diet. Always discuss any diet changes with your doctor.
Alternative Treatment Options For Adrenal Insufficiency Include:
Vitamins B5, B6, B12 for Addison's Disease:
play an important role in cell metabolism. Improving metabolic pathways boosts energy levels and is a great way to reduce the fatigue experienced during adrenal fatigue.
Vitamin C for Addison's Disease:
is an antioxidant vitamin that is directly involved in the production of cortisol in the adrenals. Begin with 1000mg and gradually increase the dose over time. Buffered or liposomal vitamin C is generally the best form, and it should be in combination with bioflavonoids.
Magnesium for Addison's Disease:
Many people are low in magnesium which can cause similar symptoms to adrenal fatigue like fatigue and depression. Patients with magnesium deficiency usually have other symptoms like muscle cramping, stiffness and insomnia.
Probiotics for Addison's Disease:
Helping patients with poor digestion and adrenal fatigue is important. Probiotics may help nutrient absorption improving energy levels and helping the body produce the hormones that it needs.
Herbs for Addison's Disease:
that may help patients with adrenal fatigue include
licorice root - stimulates hormone production, maintains energy levels and increases endurance. Note that licorice may raise blood pressure.
ashwaganda - helps regulate levels and systems in the body including cortisol levels.
siberian ginseng - can increase mental awareness and boost energy levels. Note that ginseng may raise blood pressure.
rhodiola rosea - improves circulation it enables us to increase our cortisol production further when we need it.
maca root - can help regulate cortisol levels and blood sugar. It also allows for more efficient uptake of hormones into our cells, increasing their effectiveness.
Omega-3 for Addison's Disease:
supplementation can help reduce inflammation throughout the body and relieve the workload placed on the adrenals.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine for Addison's Disease:
This supplement is particularly useful for boosting metabolism and increasing energy levels.
CoQ10 for Addison's Disease:
Your body already produces CoQ10 enzyme and uses it to produce energy for growing and maintaining your cells. It can increase endurance and improve recovery time after exercise. Supplementation may benefit those with sub optimal levels.
D-Ribose for Addison's Disease:
is a form of sugar which goes directly to forming ATP, the molecule that facilitates the transfer of energy between our cells. Tissues in the heart and muscles respond particularly well to D-Ribose supplementation, and many Adrenal Fatigue patients find it gives a useful boost to their energy levels.
Mindfulness for Addison's Disease:
enables patients to reduce stress and normalise adrenaline and cortisol levels. This allows the adrenal glands time for much-needed regeneration. For some individuals they can improve circulation, boost toxin elimination and increase energy levels by reducing stress. Mindfulness treatment typically promotes a sense of well-being and relaxation. Improvements in pain and fatigue have been frequently reported. More info
3. Diagnosis and Tests For Addison's Disease Include
help diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency by examining levels of sodium, potassium, cortisol and ACTH. A blood test can also measure antibodies associated with autoimmune Addison's disease.
ACTH stimulation test:
This test involves measuring the level of cortisol in the blood before and after an injection of synthetic ACTH. ACTH signals the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. If the adrenal glands are damaged, the ACTH stimulation test shows that output of cortisol in response to synthetic ACTH is limited or not present.
Insulin-induced hypoglycemia test:
will be ordered if pituitary disease is a possible cause of adrenal insufficiency (secondary adrenal insufficiency). The test involves checking blood sugar (blood glucose) and cortisol levels at various intervals after an injection of insulin.
a computerised tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen may be done to check the size of the adrenal glands and look for other abnormalities that may provide insight to the cause of the adrenal insufficiency. An MRI scan of your pituitary gland may be done if testing indicates that secondary adrenal insufficiency may be present.
4. Frequently Asked Questions
Can Addison's Disease be cured?
Most cases of Addison's are caused by problems with the immune system so these patients can't be cured. Most people however can live an active life by taking their medication, although many people find they still need to manage their fatigue.
What should you do if you experience an adrenal crisis?
The most common cause of this is when a patient does not receive their steroid replacement. Symptoms include nausea, rapid weight loss, dizziness and fainting, fatigue, sweating and palpitations. When adrenal insufficiency happens the patient needs to receive injectable corticosteroids, an a doctor should also be consulted as soon as possible. If the patient is vomiting or dehydrated, they will need to go to hospital so that intravenous fluids can be provided.
Is Addison's inherited from your parents and grandparents?
There is currently no genetic test for Addison's and it is not known how it is passed down from one generation to another. Addison’s is believed to be largely a genetically complicated sickness, that makes explaining the mechanisms of inheritance tougher. Like other auto-immune conditions, it's believed that this disorder involves a genetic predisposition that's somehow triggered.