Addison’s disease occurs due to dysfunction of adrenal gland situated on top of each kidney. Adrenal glands produce certain hormones called cortisol and aldosterone and adrenalin. The steroidal hormones cortisol is essential to fight inflammation and stimulates liver to produce sugar. Aldosterone regulates salt and water volume in the body.
Addison’s disease develops when the gland produces insufficient amount of these hormones.The condition is therefore also referred as adrenal insufficiency. The condition is prevalent in both genders and in all age group. If the level of these vital hormones becomes too low Addison’s disease can be life-threatening. The only treatment for countering deficiency and dysfunction of adrenal gland is hormone replacement therapy.
What Are The Causes Of Addison’s Disease?
Addison’s disease develops due to damage to the adrenal gland.Adrenal gland is located on top of each kidney. It is a tiny gland made up of two layers. The outer is called cortex and the inner core called medulla. The outer cortex produces vital hormones that are extremely vital.
It produces cortisol which is a corticosteroid hormone. It helps to convert the fuel into energy source. It helps to reduce inflammation. Aldosterone regulates potassium and sodium level in blood. It also produces androgen. Damage to adrenal gland can disrupt production of these hormones leading to a condition called Addison’s disease.
Addison’s disease is classified into two major varieties; primary adrenal insufficiency and secondary adrenal insufficiency. Primary adrenal insufficiency occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the gland. It is an autoimmune disease. The other reasons are long term use of glucocorticosteroids, infection, and adrenal tumor.
Secondary adrenal insufficiency develops when the pituitary gland is not able to produce a hormone called ACTH. The function of ACTH is to stimulate the adrenal gland to secrete cortisol and aldosterone.
The risk of Addison’s disease increases if there is a need to remove adrenal gland as in case of cancer. Use of anti coagulants or disease such as tuberculosis also increases the susceptibility for development of Addison’s disease.
Signs And Symptoms Of Addison’s Disease
The symptoms of Addison’s disease usually develop slowly over a period of time. It may take many months or years for its development. The symptoms are not apparent till most cortex part of adrenal is damaged. In its advanced stage, the symptoms include severe fatigue, darkening and increased pigmentation of skin, loss of weight, reduced appetite, excess craving of salt, mouth sores, low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, pain in muscles and joints, pain in abdomen, depression, loss of hair, fainting spells and very low blood pressure, etc.
Due to slow progression and non specific nature of symptoms, the disease is often missed till a relatively minor ailment may take long time for healing. This may prompt for several investigations in which the cause may be known. Often the acute crisis of Addison’s disease may develop. Its symptoms are severe pain in back, abdomen, vomiting and diarrhea, low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, fever, confusion, restlessness etc. These symptoms of Addisonian crisis if not treated in time can result in shock and death.
Treatment Guidelines For Addison’s Disease
The treatment will depend on the underlying cause that is responsible for Addison’s disease. The physician will prescribe medicines for proper regulation of adrenal gland. This may include corticosteroid therapy or hormone replacement therapy which has to be continued for a long time, probably throughout life.
The prescription drugs have to be taken daily or as suggested by the physician. Failure of taking these drugs can lead to Addisonian crisis leading to low blood pressure, sodium and potassium level derangement, loss of consciousness etc which ultimately become life threatening situation.
Certain home remedies and alternative therapies also play important role. Patient suffering from Addison’s disease should keep the stress level under control. Yoga, meditation, is beneficial for such patients.