When your body produces insufficient amounts of certain hormones, typically created by the adrenal glands, you will begin to suffer from a rare disease called Addison's disease. With only one in 100,000 suffering from it, this disease occurs when the body produces too little cortisol and insufficient amount of aldosterone from your adrenal glands. It can occur at any age to either gender, but people can easily live normal lives with the disease so long as they take their medicine.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease
The symptoms of Addison’s disease are many, and may include all or just some of the following:
- Constantly tired
- Weak muscles
- Sudden weight loss or lack of interest in eating
- Dizziness caused by low blood pressure
- Dark tanning and/or freckling skin
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Difficulty handling stress
- Unable to stand hot or cold
- Constantly wanting salty foods
- Persistent moodiness and depression
2. Addisonian Crisis
Although not all of the symptoms listed above are related with Addison’s disease, the following symptoms will indicate an Addisonian crisis. They will need immediate medical attention since it can become fatal.
- A sudden sharp pain in the lower back, anywhere in the legs, or in the abdomen
- Very low blood pressure
- Unable to stay conscious
- Kidneys shutting down
- Dehydration from severe vomiting and diarrhea
3. When to See a Doctor
It is best to consult a doctor if you have had any of the above symptoms at regular intervals. He or she can evaluate your current condition, assess the symptoms you are experiencing, and then determine if you have Addison’s disease or a different ailment that needs attention.
Causes of Addison’s Disease
In order to treat the disease, you must first know what causes it. The adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys, are part of the endocrine system and create hormones that provide direction for the rest of your body’s organs and tissue. Your adrenal glands have the interior medulla and the outer cortex. The medulla is responsible for adrenaline hormones, while the cortex creates corticosteroids. Those suffering from Addison’s disease have adrenal glands that are not creating a sufficient amount of two vital hormones: aldosterone and cortisol.
Primary Adrenal Insufficiency
When the cortex is damaged, it essentially causes an autoimmune disease in where the body begins attacking itself. With little adrenocortical hormones provided by the adrenal glands, the immune system thinks the cortex is a foreign object in your system that needs to be destroyed. When the cortex is damaged, it can cause diseases such as tuberculosis, and may involve infections, cancer and even bleeding of the adrenal glands.
Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency
This occurs when the pituitary gland get sick. Responsible for creating the hormone which is related with the adrenal cortex, when it becomes diseased, your adrenal glands become incapable of making the hormones your body needs to continue functioning. Another cause of secondary adrenal insufficiency can be abruptly stopping medications used for treating chronic conditions with corticosteroids.
Treatments of Addison’s Disease
The disorder involves merely a lack of hormones, meaning the solution is to replace the hormones your adrenal glands are not producing enough.
1. Oral Corticosteroids
One of the easiest ways to replace cortisol is with a prescription for fludrocortisone which replaces the aldosterone hormone your adrenal glands have not sufficiently made.
2. Corticosteroid Injections
If you cannot take oral pills, it may be necessary to receive the hormones through an injection to ensure they make their way into the blood stream.
3. Androgen Replacement Therapy
A prescription for dehydroepiandrosterone, which has actually been shown to improve overall health and libido, is used to treat androgen deficiency in women.
Maintaining the right level of sodium is important, but it may actually be higher than average because of your condition. It should be concerned especially during intense workouts, hot weather or any gastrointestinal issues that may have caused dehydration.
5. Plant-Source Cortisol
It has proven to be an effective solution to Addison’s diseasefrom natural plant sources. Some natural sources of cortisol include coffee, licorice, Ashwagandha and grapefruit.
6. Diet Supplements
Maintaining a healthy balance in your body with nutritional supplements is another alternative for hypocortisolism. By taking supplements with vitamin C, vitamin B6, L-carnitine and thiamin, you will help your body replace the hormones it is struggling to make.
Those who suffer from chronic adrenal insufficiency will need general anesthesia surgery Injections, consisting of both hydrocortisone and saline, will begin the night before the surgery and will continue until the patient is able to orally take the medication again.
While the above solutions have all been scientifically proven as effective, you can also try therapies such as acupuncture, meditation, yoga and even Tai Chi.
Some Tips for Patients Who Have Addison’s Disease
- Keep a notice with identification of Addison's disease condition at all times.
- A card with an explanation of the need of a 100 mg of cortisol to be injected should be carried and found easilyif you are injured or unable to respond.
- List the name and number of your doctor and family members.
- Travel with an injectable form of cortisol in case of emergencies.
- Know when to increase medication according to levels of stress or mild respiratory infections.
- Seek immediate medical attention in the case of sever vomiting, diarrhea or infections.
- May need hydrocortisone if patient cannot stop vomiting.
- Maintain contact with your doctor to keep adequate doses of replacement hormones without being excessive. Your medicine may need adjusted in dosage or time taken if you are having difficulties.
A nurse shared her experience of taking care of Addison's disease patient in the video below: