Addison’s Disease: 11 Warning Symptoms And When To See A Doctor

Date December 14, 2017

What is Addison’s disease?

Addison’s disease is a metabolic disorder that develops when your body produces an insufficient amount of cortisol or, less often, a related chemical called aldosterone. It happens when your adrenal glands, which are located above each of your kidneys, don’t work as it supposed to be.

Addison’s disease, also called primary adrenal insufficiency, isn’t common, only one in 100,000 people experience it.

However, Addison’s disease can affect anyone: it can occur at any age and involves both men and women. People who have this condition can live normal lives if they take their medications. President John F. Kennedy had Addison’s disease.

Cortisol is essential for your body: it helps regulate metabolism, maintain blood pressure levels, and control inflammation. Aldosterone is responsible for the amount of salt and water in your body. When aldosterone levels drop, it results in low blood pressure too.

Causes of Addison's disease

In most cases, problems with the immune system result in Addison’s disease. Your own body starts to attack the outer layer of the adrenal gland, and this, in turn, disrupts the production of cortisol and aldosterone. Scientists don’t know exactly why it happens. Health conditions, such as infections or cancer, may also lead to adrenal insufficiency.

Symptoms of Addison’s disease

Addison’s disease can be life-threatening. However, this condition usually develops gradually, and sometimes, it can be hard to determine what is wrong.

Symptoms of Addison’s disease may vary from person to person and typically include the following:

  • extreme fatigue;
  • loss of appetite;
  • weight loss;
  • darkening of the skin;
  • low blood pressure;
  • salt craving;
  • nausea, vomiting or diarrhea;
  • stomach ache;
  • irritability and depression;
  • muscle or joint pains;
  • body hair loss.

Sometimes, the symptoms and signs of Addison’s disease appear suddenly. Doctors call this condition an acute adrenal failure or addisonian crisis. In this case, the symptoms include the following:

  • pain in the lower back, abdomen, and legs;
  • severe vomiting and diarrhea;
  • low blood pressure;
  • loss of consciousness;
  • high potassium and low sodium in the blood.

Addisonian crisis is a medical emergency, so if you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible. This situation requires immediate professional care.


Addison’s disease is a result of a lack of hormones released by the adrenal glands, so it can be treated successfully by hormone replacement therapy. If treated, people with Addison’s disease can lead a normal life. At the same time, it is crucial to carry a medic alert bracelet at all times. Doctors also recommend keeping a small amount of medications handy. Missing even one day of therapy can be dangerous, so it is a great idea to have extra meds at work, in car, or in your travel bag.

Source: NHS, MayoClinic, WebMD

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This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.