What is Addison’s disease?

It is the main cause is autoimmune, meaning the body’s own immune system damages the adrenal glands. Worldwide, the most common cause is tuberculosis.

Risk factors of Addison’s disease

  • Polyglandular autoimmune syndrome type 1 and 2 (genetically inherited autoimmune condition)
  • Hypothyroidism (having an underactive thyroid gland)
  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus
  • Tuberculosis

Typical Symptoms of Addison’s disease

The hormones produced by the adrenal glands play a role in maintaining blood pressure, regulating your metabolism and response to stress.

As a result the symptoms caused by Addison’s disease are very varied and it can unfortunately sometimes take a long time to make a diagnosis of Addison’s.

Typical symptoms that evolve over time include:

  • Increased skin pigmentation (darkening of the skin) as spots or patches on the palms of the hands, in the mouth and on sun exposed areas of the skin
  • Feeling very tired
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal aches
  • Carvings for salt, soy sauce or liquorice
  • Muscle weakness and cramps
  • Feeling dizzy when standing up (due to low blood pressure)

Sometimes Addison’s will be diagnosed due to the sudden onset of an ‘Addisonian crisis’, which is set off by an infection or a period of stress. An Addisonian crisis includes:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Shock
  • Sudden abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Slight fever

Common Treatment of Addison’s disease

If untreated, Addison’s is very serious and life-threatening. Addison’s requires lifelong treatment. Treatment is initially managed by an endocrinologist. Thereafter the endocrinologist will usually share care and prescribing of medication with your GP.

It is important to be aware that medication doses need to be adjusted during periods of illness or physical stress (e.g. injury, surgery, heavy exercise etc) and the endocrinologist and GP will be able to advise you of this.

When to speak to a doctor

If you think that you might have Addison’s disease, it is important to speak to a doctor. Your concerns or questions about Addison’s can often be initially managed via a digital consultation. If the doctor decides you need blood tests or a face to face appointment, they will discuss what steps you can take next.

Please note that this material is for general information only and should never be used as a substitute for personalised medical advice provided during a consultation with a doctor.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.