Addison's disease is a rare condition that develops when the
adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, are not able to produce enough of
the hormones cortisol and aldosterone.
The adrenal glands release cortisol to help the body cope with
stress from illness, injury, surgery, childbirth, or other reasons. Aldosterone
helps the body retain salt and maintain blood pressure. Adrenal gland failure
can be caused by a problem with the body's immune system (autoimmune disease)
or by infection, tumor, bleeding, or injury.
Symptoms of Addison's disease include weakness, weight loss,
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, darkening of the skin (called hyperpigmentation),
emotional distress, and a decreased ability to tolerate cold.
People who have Addison's disease need to take medicine for the
rest of their lives to replace cortisol and aldosterone. Treatment relieves
symptoms and usually reverses any darkening of the skin. After proper treatment
is started, most people with Addison's disease can lead healthy lives. If
Addison's disease is not treated, an adrenal crisis may occur that can lead to
death because of a severe drop in blood pressure.
December 5, 2011
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology
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