Addison’s disease is a rare disease of the adrenal glands.
Addison disease is a lifelong condition that can be treated successfully with the replacement of steroid hormones. People with Addison disease can have a normal life span because cases of Addison disease may go undiagnosed, and it is difficult to determine its true frequency in the general population.
A study held in 2009 states that the average life expectancy of women with Addison disease is 75.7 years and men with Addison disease is 64.8 years, which is 3.2 and 11.2 years less than the respective life expectancy in otherwise normal women and men.
Addison disease can still potentially be a deadly condition, especially in youngsters. It may cause acute adrenal failure, infection, and sudden death. Otherwise, with proper medications, the life expectancy in Addison disease is normal and excellent.
What does Addison disease mean?
Addison’s disease is a rare disease of the adrenal glands. Adrenals are two small organs situated atop the kidneys. They secrete hormones (chemical substances) in the blood that help maintain salt and water balance and other essential body functions. In this disease, the adrenal glands no longer produce the required hormones, which may cause life-threatening complications.
In the United States, Addison disease affects 1 in 100,000 people. It occurs in both genders with equal frequency, most commonly in the 30-50-year-olds.
How do you get Addison disease?
You may get Addison disease because of the weakening or malfunctioning of the immune system. The body attacks the outer layer of the adrenal gland (the adrenal cortex), disrupting the production of substances called aldosterone and cortisol. The other causes of Addison disease are:
- Infections, such as tuberculosis, HIV, fungal infections
- Tumor of the pituitary gland (regulates body functions by controlling hormones)
- Hereditary (rare)
- Amyloidosis (a disease where waxy substance deposits in the body and chokes the cells)
What are the signs and symptoms of Addison disease?
If you are diagnosed with Addison disease, you may have
- Fatigue, the main sign of Addison disease
- Muscle weakness is another common sign
- Pain in the muscles and joints
- Low blood pressure leading to dizziness and fall, especially while standing
- Cravings for salt (in initial stages)
- Low blood glucose
- Excessive sweating (common in children with Addison disease)
- Irregular menses in women
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Sometimes, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Darkening of skin on the face, neck, and back of your hands (in initial stages) that covers exposed and nonexposed parts. These are, mostly, visible on skin folds, scars, pressure points, such as the elbows, knees, toes, lips, and knuckles.
What can go wrong with the treatment of Addison disease?
Steroid medications (Hydrocortisone) usually need to be taken daily two to three times, at the right time of day. A delay of 2 hours in taking the next dose may lead to weakness, dizziness, nausea, and forgetfulness.
In case of serious illness or injury, extra medication is needed immediately, or an emergency injection of Hydrocortisone may be required.
Untreated Addison disease may prove life-threatening. You may quickly become sick and may have an adrenal crisis, which is a life-threatening situation. In this adrenal crisis, you may have
- A lot of vomiting
- Dangerously high potassium levels in the blood, which may cause a heart attack
- A rapid drop in blood pressure
- Stroke (blockage of blood flow in the brain)
You must receive an emergency Hydrocortisone injection or immediately reach the hospital. You should be always prepared for an adrenal crisis and must carry extra spare injections of Hydrocortisone.
Around 8% of people with Addison disease experience an adrenal crisis each year, some people experience it more frequently than others.