Addison’s disease is a rare disease, also called adrenal insufficiency. Named after Thomas Addison, Addison’s disease is “caused by partial or complete failure of the adrenal cortex, which is the outer layer of the adrenal glands” (HealthCentral). This disorder occurs when the body fails to produce sufficient amounts of the hormones cortisol, aldosterone, and adrenal androgens. These are essential to the body because they produce hormones that control many bodily functions. The inadequate production of cortisol and often deficient levels of aldosterone and adrenal androgens can result in the body attacking itself (autoimmune disease), thus becoming life-threatening. When these hormones are not producing sufficiently it can be detrimental to the body because they are essential for life. The MayoClinic website states the hormone cortisol is necessary and without it can result in excessive levels of potassium and low levels of salt, causing an electrolyte imbalance in the body. It can also hinder the body’s ability to convert foods into energy, affects the body’s inflammatory response, and impede the body’s ability to respond to stress appropriately. It also can affect a person’s overall mental well-being by influencing sexual development among males and females by causing diminished libido and muscle mass.
Though Addison’s disease affects both male and females, it also affects children. Its most predominant in females than males but more likely to occur between the ages of 30-50 in both. According to Webscape, children who are predisposed have a 30% risk of progression to Addison’s disease. The mortality rate is around 6 to every 1 million in the United State and much higher in other countries; however this number is very deceiving due to the number of those misdiagnosed. (Medscape)
There are upwards of 60 signs and symptoms of Addison’s disease. With the onset of Addison’s disease, symptoms usually begin gradually. They are not all pronounced in the early stages but have been documented in almost half of all cases found. The onset of symptoms mostly communicated are chronic fatigue and muscle weakness, mood changes, loss of appetite and weight loss, nausea, vomiting, including dizziness or fainting because blood pressure is low and falls upon standing. Hyperpigmentation is also common in Addison’s disease. Most visible on scars, skin folds, elbows, knees, knuckles, toes, lips and mucous membranes. This darkening of the skin is also found on both exposed and non-exposed parts of the body. Unfortunately, even as symptoms gradually progress, they are usually ignored until a stressful circumstance or illness causes them to become worse, sending them to into Addisonian crisis. Addisonian crisis is also known as acute adrenal crisis. Addisonian crisis may result in shock, coma, seizures and even death. If the patient is very ill and Addison’s disease is suspected, immediate treatment can be started while tests are being performed.
“When Thomas Addison...