Addison’s disease is related to hormones and it is a rare disorder, which occurs when there is insufficient production of hormones by the adrenal gland. The adrenal glands are located above each kidney, and they synthesize hormones like cortisol and aldosterone. Hormones in body act as mechanical messengers, which promote different functions. They are essential for a healthy body and if there are insufficient amounts of these chemical messengers, the result is a destabilization of body function.
Addison’s disease occurs when adrenal glands so not make enough of the cortisol and aldosterone hormones. The condition can affect people of all ages and sex. At times, the disease may be serious and life-threatening. Cortisol hormone helps the body to respond to stress effects. It also assists in the regulation of fat, proteins, and carbohydrates. This hormone is also responsible in maintaining blood pressure and enhancing the cardiovascular function. It also helps in controlling inflammation.
On the other hand, aldosterone is responsible in aiding the kidney to regulate water and salt levels in body and if a patient has low levels of this hormone, it can result to inability of the kidney to maintain salt and water in their correct balance. This leads to drop in blood pressure. Addison’s disease is also called chronic adrenal insufficiency. The disease may occur if there is a problem emanating from within the adrenal gland and this is called primary adrenal insufficiency. However, at other times, a problem may arise from somewhere else and affect the adrenal gland. For example, if the pituitary gland has problems, this may also affect the adrenal gland resulting to what is called secondary adrenal insufficiency.
Causes of Addison’s disease
Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal gland cannot produce sufficient amount of cortisol and aldosterone hormones. If there are damages on adrenal glands, this may result to this condition. The outer layer of adrenal glands (cortex) is known to produce very essential hormones such as the corticosteroids. The group of hormones known as corticosteroids is made up of mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, and androgens or male sex hormones.
Therefore, primary adrenal insufficient occurs when the outer layer of adrenal glands (cortex) is damaged and not able to synthesize enough of these hormones. An autoimmune reaction can occur, which triggers the body defense mechanism to attack its own tissue including the adrenal cortex and this causes damage, which may in turn leads to production of insufficient hormones. There are other causes related to adrenal gland malfunction such as TB, infections, cancer and bleeding of the gland.
Secondary adrenal insufficiency may arise from a disease affecting the pituitary gland. The adrenal gland is stimulated by a hormone produced by the pituitary glands. The adrenocorticotropic hormone is produced by pituitary gland and stimulates adrenal gland to synthesize and produce its hormones, therefore is there is problem with the pituitary glands, it means that the adrenal gland may also not function properly. People who take corticosteroids to treat conditions like arthritis and asthma may suffer from secondary adrenal insufficient when they abruptly stop taking these drugs. Improper use of prednisone, a steroid hormone is also associated with Addison’s disease.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease
Symptoms of Addison disease include chronic fatigue and feeling of weakness in the muscles. A patient has also problem in weight such as weight loss, loss of appetite, and the inability of the stomach to digest food. A patient may experience sudden low pressure when standing thus making one to feel like fainting. The skin may change its colour to appear freckling and have a dark tanning and blotchy look. This change in skin may occur in areas exposed to sunlight or other parts like the gums.
Dark skin occurs on skin folds, scars, elbows, knees palms and forehead. Hypoglycaemia or serious low blood sugar can occur in a patient. Other signs include diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea. People are also unable to cope with stress often experiencing mood swings, depression, and irritability. There is also intolerance to cold and heat and at times, there is craving for food with more salt.
One thing to note is that these symptoms may also be experienced in other diseases and conditions and therefore a proper examination is required to determine if a patient is suffering from Addison’s disease. The symptoms are slow and may not be recognized easily and at times, the condition is discovered when the symptoms are worsened by another condition like an accident, stress, or surgery.
Treatment of Addison’s disease
Since Addison’s disease is caused by lack of sufficient hormones produced by adrenal glands, treatment is aimed at replacing those hormones. A patient can use tablets of hydrocortisone daily to help in replacing cortisol hormone. Aldosterone may also be replaced with use of synthetic steroid such as fludrocortisone acetate. If used properly, these hormonal replacement therapies could assist an individual live almost a normal life. However, missing some doses can be dangerous and a person should carry with him or her, the tablets or medications to ensure that they are taken at the right time.
Addison’s Disease – Pictures