Addison's Disease

Overview of Addison's Disease

The adrenal gland is present on top of your kidneys. This gland regulates your body functions by producing hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone. In Addison’s disease (Khoon Ki Kami/خون کی کمی), the adrenal gland produces very little amount of these hormones. Cortisol regulates your body's response when you are suffering from stress. Aldosterone maintains the level of salt and water in your body by helping your kidneys.

Occurrence of Addison’s Disease

Addison’s disease is a rare disease that affects only 1 in 100,000 people. It occurs equally in both sexes (male and female). Overall, it affected 40 and 60 people per million of the general population.

Signs and Symptoms of Addison's Disease

Addison's disease symptoms typically develop gradually and take several months. 

You may feel the following common signs and symptoms:

  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure, even fainting
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Salt craving
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting (gastrointestinal symptoms)
  • Muscle or joint pains
  • Irritability
  • Depression or other behavioral symptoms
  • Body hair loss or sexual dysfunction in women

Types of Addison's Disease

Addison’s disease is of two types:

  • Primary adrenal insufficiency
  • Secondary adrenal insufficiency

Causes of Addison's Disease

Both types of Addison’s disease occur due to the following reasons:

  • Damaged adrenal glands: When your adrenal glands are damaged due to the action of the immune system it results in primary adrenal insufficiency. This condition is called an autoimmune disorder.
  • Administration of glucocorticoids for a long period
  • Infections in your body
  • Tumors
  • Secondary adrenal insufficiency
  • Damaged Pituitary Gland (low ACTH level causes secondary adrenal insufficiency)
  • Medications
  • Genetics
  • Traumatic brain injury

Risk Factors of Addison's Disease

Your chances to develop Addison’s disease are increased if you:

  • Suffer from cancer
  • Take blood thinners
  • Have tuberculosis
  • Had surgery to remove any part of your adrenal gland
  • Have an autoimmune disease such as Graves’ disease

Health Complications of Addison's disease

If you have untreated Addison’s disease, you may develop ‘Addison’s crisis’ as a result of physical stress such as injury, illness, or infection. Normally, the adrenal glands produce two to three times the usual amount of cortisol in response to physical stress. But with adrenal insufficiency, the ability to increase cortisol production with stress can lead to an Addison’s crisis. 

People with Addison's disease commonly have associated autoimmune diseases. 



Addison’s disease cannot be prevented but it can be managed in the following ways:

  • Visit your doctor and talk to him if you feel weak, tired, or are losing weight. Ask about having an adrenal shortage. 
  • If you already have been diagnosed with Addison's disease ask your doctor about what to do when you're sick. You might need to know the dose of corticosteroids you need. 
  • If you are extremely sick and vomiting. And if it's difficult for you to take medication then go to the emergency room as soon as you can. 


After asking about your sign and symptoms your doctor may recommend you following tests:

  • ACTH Stimulation Test: ACTH triggers adrenal glands to release cortisol. Your doctor may recommend this test to estimate the level of cortisol in your blood. Synthetic ACTH is injected after performing the test.

  • Blood Test: Blood tests such as Blood Chemistry Study are usually performed to measure the level of sodium, potassium, cortisol, and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in your blood. A blood test also estimates the level of antibodies when checking for autoimmune Addison's disease.

  • Insulin-Induced Hypoglycemia Test: This test will measure the level of glucose and cortisol in your blood. 

Treatment of Addison's Disease | When to Consult a Doctor

It is important to follow your doctor’s suggested treatment plan. If you leave Addison's disease untreated it can lead to an Addisonian crisis. Addisonian crisis causes further disease problems such as 

  • Low blood pressure
  • High potassium in the blood 
  • Low blood sugar levels

Home Care: Always keep an emergency kit. You may ask your doctor to prescribe an injectable corticosteroid for emergencies. 

Medications: Your doctor may prescribe you a combination of glucocorticoid medications to improve your health. You have to take these medications for the rest of your life without missing a dose.

Hormone Replacements: The healthcare personnel may recommend hormone replacement therapy for the hormones that your adrenal glands are not producing properly.

In case of any concerning signs and symptoms, you can reach out to a certified diabetologist via Healthwire for a comprehensive consultation and a customized treatment plan.