One of the many hormonal diseases lurking out there is Addison’s disease. Fortunately, this infliction is not only rare, but usually carries a favorable prognosis when a proper medication regimen is followed. It was discovered by British physician Dr. Thomas Addison, the person it was named after, during the mid-1800s.
Addison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce the amount of steroid hormones necessary, generally glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids, which are extremely essential to the body. The causes are grouped into categories according to their lack of ability to produce cortisol.
The first of these categories is adrenal dysgenesis. This group includes the genetic causes, which are extremely rare. Next is impaired steroidogenesis. This is a result of the cholesterol, which is required by the adrenal gland to function correctly, not being properly delivered to it. Thirdly is adrenal destruction. According to reports, this is the most common contributor to Addison’s disease. An autoimmune destruction that transpires in the adrenal cortex causes a negative reaction affecting the enzyme 21-hydroxylase. Lastly, corticosteroid withdrawal is a cause brought on by high doses of steroids lasting longer than one week. With long-term suppression of the adrenal gland it can physically become smaller. During the several months that it can take to recover, the patient is susceptible to decreased performance of the gland, particularly when struck with illness or high levels of stress.
The symptoms are numerous and can be quite stealthy, making it very difficult to accurately diagnose Addison’s. Commonly patients suffer from muscle weakness, fatigue, headache, sweating, pain in joints and muscles, mood and personality swings, and becoming lightheaded while standing or being upright. Occasionally, cravings for salt are reported as a result of the sodium that is lost through urination. Other conditions that can be discovered during clinical testing include low blood pressure while standing and darkening pigmentation of the skin.
Treatment is primarily based on the use of medications. Hydrocortisone tablets or prednisone tablets are used to replace the cortisol that is lacking. Nearly all people diagnosed will be required to continue taking prescriptions for the rest of their lives. When someone afflicted with Addison’s disease develops an infection, needs surgery, or becomes pregnant, special precautions must be taken as the medications can cause complications.
Addisonian crisis happens when the deficiency becomes severe. This usually requires admittance to the hospital for treatment.