The All-In-One Guide to Addison’s Disease

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Your hormones have a very significant role to play in your overall health and wellbeing, and this includes carrying chemicals throughout your body in order to ensure that everything functions well.

Now, you’ve probably heard or read somewhere about adrenal glands, the small cone-shaped organs that sit atop your kidneys. These seemingly tiny organs are at the center of this important system.

However, once your adrenals are shot they won’t be able to generate enough hormones for you to be healthy, and this leads to what’s known as Addison’s Disease.

Now, very few people get diagnosed with Addison’s Disease because it’s a rare condition to have. In fact, stats show that it only affects about 1 in 100, 000 people and during his lifetime, President John F. Kennedy was one of those few, and yet he was able to live out a healthy life nonetheless. So Addison’s is not necessarily a life sentence, but rather a manageable condition that only requires that you treat it properly.

Addison’s disease is characterized by the adrenal gland’s inability to generate certain critical hormones known as cortisol and aldosterone. Both of these hormones are incredibly important to your body’s ability to function.

For example, aldosterone is responsible for facilitating your kidney’s ability to normalize your body’s salt and water levels. If you have uncontrollable blood pressure, then your aldosterone levels might be low. On the other hand, cortisol is responsible for ensuring that your body makes the most out of the nutrients you put in, including protein, carbohydrates and fat, while also helping to maintain proper cardiovascular health and balanced blood pressure levels, as well as keeping inflammation in check.

Addison’s Disease Symptoms

Addison’s disease typically manifests itself in the following symptoms:

  • A drop in blood pressure or heart rate
  • Exhaustion or extreme tiredness
  • Fainting spells
  • Depression and/ or being cranky
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Having weak muscles
  • Constant cravings for savory or salty foods
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Darkening complexion

If one goes for too long without treating Addison’s disease, the condition might escalate into what is known as an Addisonian crisis. Once the disease reaches this critical stage, it can have fatal consequences. So, if you or anyone else you know experiences the following symptoms, make sure to call 911 straightaway:

  • High fever
  • Becoming mentally confused or restless
  • A severe pain in the legs, belly and/or lower back
  • Loss of consciousness

Ultimately, if Addison’s goes untreated even after this stage, the patient might end up going into shock, or worse, death.

What Causes Addison’s Disease?

Once your adrenal glands get damaged, they lose their ability to generate the cortisol needed for your body to function properly, and that leads to Addison’s. Your adrenal glands sit just on top of your kidneys and are a critical component of your whole endocrine system, which is responsible for producing the hormones that give orders to all the different organs in your body.

The adrenal glands are split into two different segments. There’s an interior segment which is called the medulla and which generates adrenaline-like hormones. The other one is the outer layer, known as the cortex, which is responsible for generating hormones like androgens (male sex hormone), mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids.

Now, the cortex is responsible for producing some of the most important hormones that are needed by your body to regulate critical life processes, such as the mineralocorticoids and the glucocorticoids.

  • This group of hormones enables your body to make the most out of the food you consume, and they do this by converting that food into energy. This is what makes them so essential to your immune system’s inflammatory response, and they’re key to stress response function as well.
  • This group of hormones includes aldosterone, and it’s responsible for regulating your body’s blood pressure levels by maintaining the balance between potassium and sodium.
  • As mentioned, androgens are male sex hormones, and they emanate from the adrenal glands in small quantities by both men and women. In men, androgens affect sexual development and their function for both sexes includes stimulating libido, regulating muscle mass and giving one a sense of overall well-being.

Addison’s disease is further categorized into two medical classifications: primary adrenal deficiency as well as secondary adrenal deficiency. Your physician has to first figure out which of the two conditions you have before they can recommend a treatment regime for you.

Primary Adrenal Insufficiency

Primary adrenal deficiency refers to a state where your adrenal glands have been so severely damaged that they don’t even generate hormones anymore. This level of damage typically happens when your adrenal glands get attacked by your immune system, hence the condition is known as autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disease is characterized by the immune system’s inability to distinguish between your body’s regular organs and outside invaders like bacteria and viruses, hence it ends up attacking everything in its path.

Primary adrenal deficiency can also be caused by:

  • Irregular growths such as tumorous and cancer
  • Bodily infections
  • Taking glucocorticoids like prednisone for prolonged periods of time
  • Certain blood-thinning drugs that control blood clotting processes

Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency

With secondary adrenal deficiency the pituitary gland, which is a part of your brain, loses its ability to generate adrenocorticotropic hormone, also known as ACTH. ACHT is that which gives out the command for your adrenal glands to produce hormones in the first place.

Adrenal deficiency often happens when you neglect to take your prescribed corticosteroid treatment, which is typically given to chronic health patients like asthma sufferers for example.

Who’s at Risk for Addison’s Disease?

The following factors will also increase your risk of developing Addison’s disease:

  • Cancer
  • Intake of anticoagulants, also known as blood thinners
  • Contracting chronic infections like tuberculosis
  • If a part of your adrenal gland has been removed through surgery in the past
  • Autoimmune disease patients, like those who suffer from Grave’s disease and type 1 diabetes

Diagnosing Addison’s Disease

In order to ensure an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will start by analyzing your medical history, the details of which he will get from you. Afterward, they’ll perform a physical exam and may even check your sodium and potassium levels by running some lab tests, as well as checking your hormone levels.

How is Addison’s Disease Treated?

The medication recommended by your physician will depend on the cause of the condition. For example, they might prescribe adrenal gland regulating treatment to help get your adrenals back to normal again.

Regardless of the type of treatment you get, it’s important that you follow your doctor’s orders to the latter so that you can treat the disease properly and prevent it from accelerating into an Addisonian crisis.

Once the condition reaches the terminal Addisonian crisis stage, your physician will have to respond to that first, before they treat the Addison’s.  Some of the symptoms of the Addisonian crisis include low blood sugar, high potassium levels, and low blood pressure.

Medications. To get your health back on track after a bout of Addison’s, a blend of glucocorticoids medications might be in order, and you’ll be required to take these drugs for the rest of your life according to your doctor’s dosage recommendations. Your physician might even add hormone replacements into that mix to make up for the hormones not being produced by your adrenal glands.

Home Care. Once you’re given treatment by your doctor, it’s important that you keep it in a mobile emergency kit that you can travel with at all times. You should also add an injectable corticosteroid in there in case of emergencies, which your doctor can prescribe for you as well if you ask. Other medical essentials to keep with you at all times include a medical alert bracelet as well as an explanatory card, to make others aware of your condition.

Alternative Therapies. Addison’s disease patients must maintain low-stress levels at all times because extreme stress can compromise your treatment response levels considerably. You might want to try stress relieving modalities like meditation and yoga for that, but make sure to consult with your doctor before you do.

Preventing Addison’s Disease

The key to preventing Addison’s disease is to actually get rid of the symptoms first and then work on preventing an Addisonian crisis. Extreme stress is one of the main causes of the Addisonian crisis and the key to preventing it is to limit your exposure to triggers like autoimmune diseases, all the while treating the underlying ailments.

By paying attention to the following risk factors, you can limit the possibility of developing Addison’s disease altogether:

  • Keep diabetes under control
  • Treat any fungal infections that arise immediately
  • Check for cancer symptoms to nip them in the bud before the cells spread to your bloodstream and adrenal glands
  • Treat bacterial infections as soon as they arise, i.e. tuberculosis

Ultimately, the best way for Addison’s disease patients to prevent an Addisonian crisis is to engage in relaxing practices that will prevent stress and the complications that arise from it.

Living with Addison’s Disease

Living with Addison’s doesn’t have to limit your life. In fact, taking your medication as recommended will enable you to lead a normal and healthy life.

That said, patients might experience exhaustion spells, which can be difficult to manage in the beginning.

Also, some patients struggle to adapt to the new treatment schedule and feel that the medication affects their emotional health and ability to enjoy their social engagements. However, it’s important to take medication on time in order to prevent side-effects like insomnia and exhaustion.

Addison’s disease can also lead to other associated health conditions like having an underactive thyroid or diabetes, which will add to the amount of medication that you need to take.

Another mandatory aspect of your treatment will be an endocrinologist appointment which will happen every 6 to 12 months to check your improvement and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment regime. You can also go to your GP in between these appointments to get additional prescriptions and overall support and guidance.

If you neglect to take your medications as prescribed, you could end up facing an adrenal crisis, which is an even worse fate. To avoid all that, it’s important to:

  • Consume your medication exactly as prescribed.
  • Make a reminder to get your repeat prescriptions whenever you have to
  • Always have extra medication on hand, which you can keep in an emergency medical box in your car, at your office and even in your handbag.
  • When traveling, be sure to carry extra medication in addition to an injection kit.
  • If you’re flying to your destination, then pack your meds inside your hand luggage so that they’re easily accessible, and make sure that there’s a doctor’s note next to it, which explains its purpose in detail.

It also helps to inform the people in your life about your condition (i.e. family members, colleagues, and friends). Empower them with knowledge of what to do when adrenal failure happens and let them know what symptoms they should look out for.

Medical Alert Bracelets

Medical alert bracelets will inform people about your condition in situations when you’re not able to, and they can potentially save your life.

For example, the human body typically produces extra cortisol in order to help the body cope in emergency situations like car accidents. Addison’s disease sufferers, unfortunately, cannot produce cortisol naturally, so in emergency situations, it’s important that you get a hydrocortisone shot to avoid an adrenal crisis from happening.

This is where your medical bracelet comes in because it’ll help the medical staff attending to you to treat you accordingly and timeously.

If you’re wondering what a medical bracelet is, it’s actually a piece of trendy jewelry which has the name of your medical condition inscribed on it, as well as an emergency contact number. They’re also available as necklaces and can be purchased from different retailers. If you’re not sure which one to get, perhaps ask your GP for a recommendation.

Should you be admitted to a hospital, your medical bracelet will alert the medical staff to your condition, so that they can provide you with steroid replacement medication, regardless of whether or not you’re able to eat.

Adjusting Your Medication

It’s important to add here that your medication dosages might change from time to time, in order to adapt to your needs. For instance, your doctor might opt to increase your dose if you start to experience one or a combination of the following symptoms:

  • An infection of some sort– especially if it raises your temperature to the point where it reaches 38C or above
  • A calamity, such as a car accident or similar event
  • Any medical procedure that requires an incision to be made- i.e. endoscopy or tooth filling
  • Adding a vigorous exercise regime

Increasing your dosage in instances like these will make it easier for your body to cope with the changes, while your endocrinologist will also continue to observe your condition so that they can make informed recommendations, if necessary.

As time goes, you too will get familiar with your bodily cues and be able to use them to adapt your medication adoringly. Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor first.

Emergency Treatment

Once you start treatment for Addison’s disease, your doctor will give you and one other person of your choice the training needed to administer an emergency injection.

That way, you’ll know what to do if you happen to experience a shocking event that causes you to relapse into symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting. Sometimes, these symptoms occur most frequently during pregnancy as a result of morning sickness.

Just be sure to always contact your doctor after you’ve administered the emergency injection. You should also keep the contact details of your local out-of-hours emergency medical service center so that you can get assistance if the incident happens after hours.

Better yet, get registered with the ambulance service in your area so that they’re able to give you the assistance you need when tragedy strikes.

Free Prescriptions. Addison’s disease patients get a medical exemption certificate which means that you get your Addison’s prescriptions for free.

What Should You Expect in the Long Term?

An Addison ’s Disease patient requires ongoing treatment which includes hormone replacement therapy on a regular basis in order to control the frequency and severity of symptoms.

By taking your medications as prescribed by your doctor every day, you’ll be able to enjoy a normal and productive life like everybody else.

Just be sure to take your treatment according to your doctor’s prescription and never miss a dosage. Missing even a single dose can cost you dearly, and your doctor might need to change your treatment plan every now and then so you need to honor your appointments as well.

Things You Should Know About Addison’s Disease

Here are some interesting facts about Addison’s that you may not know, including some of its most obscure symptoms.

It Can Make Your Teeth Appear Whiter

As previously mentioned, Addison’s disease can darken your complexion, while at the same time whitening your teeth. While many might take this symptom as an indication of diligent oral care, it’s actually one of the early indications of Addison’s and is often accompanied by weight loss, stomach pain, and fatigue. These changes in appearance are mainly caused by the hormonal changes brought on by Addison’s.

Its Symptoms are Popular Ones.

Other common symptoms of Addison’s include lethargy, forgetfulness, aching bones, severe abdominal pain, nausea lack of energy and low blood pressure. Because these symptoms are similar to those of other conditions like cancer and thyroid disease, it can be difficult to diagnose them as Addison’s, although the loss of body hair is a major red flag.

It’s Rare

Getting diagnosed with Addison’s disease is a very rare occurrence, and as a result, most doctors don’t even consider it as a possibility when testing for potential diseases based on symptoms.

Can be Confused with Adrenal Insufficiency

It’s not uncommon to see Addison’s diseases getting mixed up with adrenal insufficiency, and while these conditions have very similar symptoms, they are very different from one another.

For one, a thyroid issue simply refers to a state of hormonal imbalance that only partly affects your adrenal function, whereas Addison’s disease turns your body against itself by destroying your adrenal glands, which are an essential component to most bodily functions.

That Destruction Can Happen Very Fast

While uncommon, it is possible for Addison’s to rapidly damage your organs in as quickly as a matter of days. However, the disease normally takes a couple of months and sometimes even years before it does any noticeable damage.

Still, Addison’s is significantly more intense than other adrenal ailments, and it tends to attack the body from different fronts causing your condition to worsen over time.

Anybody Can Get It

Addison’s disease does not discriminate. Literally, anyone can get it, regardless of age, gender, social status, it doesn’t matter. However, the risk of getting Addison’s increases exponentially for people who have a family history of an endocrine disorder, but that still doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get it.

Screening for Addison’s Disease is Simple

To diagnose Addison’s, your physician will typically perform a blood exam to check how much ACTH and cortisol you have left. While this type of screening usually yields clear results, it can sometimes be vague in rare cases, which then warrants a follow-up test.

There are Effective Treatments

Typically, Addison’s disease patients are given oral hormone supplements in order to combat the symptoms of the disease. However, in cases where that’s not enough, or if the patient is unable to make use of the supplements, then injections might have to be utilized. The good news is that patients can go on to live healthy and fruitful lives, granted they take treatment as recommended.

Home Remedies for Addison’s Disease

The following are some of the most effective natural remedies that you can use to minimize the effects of Addison’s disease:

Ginger. You can use ginger to heal the actual condition and its accompanying symptoms. It’s very effective at healing intestinal discomfort while keeping you regular and combating nausea, all of which are common symptoms of Addison’s.  You can eat ginger in raw form or have it as a tea.

Tai Chi, Yoga and Meditation. These are all very relaxing techniques that you can incorporate into your daily routine to reduce stress levels. While some mainstream physicians are quick to object to these natural healing modalities, there is plenty of scientific evidence that associates them with achieving mental and hormonal balance. Also, meditation and yoga are very effective at alleviating the personality transformation that can come as a result of Addison’s.

Ginseng and Borage. Quite a few alternative studies have recommended ginseng and borage for the treatment of Addison’s, as both herbs are very effective at strengthening the immune system and thus play a huge role in combating autoimmune attack episodes.

Green Tea. Green tea is well-known for its ability to regulate hormonal balance while promoting proper metabolic function. Green tea can also help prevent autoimmune attacks by strengthening the immune system.

Proper Diet and Exercise. In keeping with the popular saying which goes “eat well and move often”, maintaining healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way to resist autoimmune dysfunction. Proper diet and exercise will also help your body to make the most of your treatment while alleviating hormonal imbalance that comes with Addison’s.

Turmeric and Reishi Mushrooms. Similar to the previously mentioned ingredients, reishi mushrooms and turmeric are excellent immune boosters and will help your body to generate hormones, which is very important because Addison’s is characterized by an extreme failure to produce critical hormones.

Astragalus, Milk Thistle, and Echinacea. Make sure to add these herbal supplements to your daily arsenal of defense against Addison’s disease. They’re all fantastic hormone production boosters and immune strengtheners.

Caution

It’s important to harken back here to our earlier statement that Addison’s is not curable, and it requires ongoing and lifelong treatment in order to properly manage. However, there is hope of a more permanent solution, although research has been mostly unfruitful so far.

Also, if the condition escalates into an Addisonian crisis, then you can easily find yourself in a comatose state after slipping into a state of extremely low blood pressure. That’s why it’s so important to take your medication religiously and at the proper dosages, and while effective, herbal remedies should be taken as “complements” to your prescribed treatment.

Herbal Treatments for Addison’s Disease

Ancient natural medicine, herbal, vials and scale on wooden background

One of the leading triggers of Addison’s disease is stress, so it only makes sense to combat anything that triggers it in order to keep your Addison’s in check. This is where naturopathic healers come in. these clinicians often use herbal remedies that not only relieve the symptoms of the disease but can also help to prevent future flare-ups.

Through the use of Adaptogens within the herbs, natural remedies can facilitate mental balance to help you cope better with stress. Some of the most commonly used herbal treatments that are very helpful in the fight against Addison’s include milk thistle, Astragalus, Siberian ginseng, Echinacea as well as green tea extract.

Adding ashwagandha to your daily supplementation will not help to strengthen your immune system, help you deal with stress, stimulate the nervous system, and even stimulate the natural production of the cortisol hormone.

Exercise and Addison’s Disease

Due to symptoms like muscle weakness, aching bones and exhaustion, Addison’s patients often find it extremely difficult to exercise on a regular basis. However, if you manage to push through that initial discomfort and exercise anyway, you’ll find that it’s easier for you to handle daily stress and you’ll have better core strength as well.

Plus, you don’t have to do hectic exercises in order to get results. Cardio movements like jogging, swimming, walking, rebounding and aerobics are often enough to alleviate symptoms. The best part that all of these exercises are easy and low-impact, and you’ll be able to improve your strength and stamina as you go along as well.

Stress Management

As previously mentioned, stress is a major trigger for Addison’s disease symptoms. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial for patients to properly manage their stress levels both on an emotional and physical level. Psychological stress can easily come about when you’re anxious or emotional imbalanced, and this can significantly weaken your defenses as a result. That’s why it’s harder to fight the flu if you’re stressed, so just imagine what being in such a state can do to your ability to survive an even more difficult health condition.

Many of Addison’s patients have found symptom relief through practicing meditation and breathing exercises. Spending time by yourself can significantly relieve stress for many, and many have found respite through prayer as well.

Needless to say, getting diagnosed with Addison’s can be a life-changing experience, and without proper treatment, it can lead to fatal health complications. Your best bet at beating this disease is to proactively heal yourself by taking your meds, supplementing with natural remedies and maintaining an overall balanced lifestyle.

Adrenal Insufficiency and Addison’s Disease

One can be said to suffer from adrenal insufficiency when their adrenal glands are no longer able to generate the needed hormones. In case you’re wondering, your adrenal glands sit right atop your kidneys and are sort of cone shaped.

There is primary adrenal insufficiency and secondary adrenal insufficiency, and Addison’s disease is typically considered to be the former. This condition happens when the adrenal glands get so severely damaged that they can no longer generate cortisol, which is an important adrenal hormone. It can also lead to a deficiency in aldosterone as well, which is also an adrenal hormone.

On the other hand, secondary adrenal deficiency attacks the pituitary gland, which is located in your brain and is responsible for producing a hormone known as adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), which is central to the production of cortisol. Once your ACTH levels drop, cortisol production tends to follow as well. As a result, the adrenal glands shrivel and die. Interestingly, there are more cases of secondary adrenal deficiency than there are Addison’s disease diagnoses.

What Do Adrenal Hormones Do?

The adrenal hormones known as aldosterone and cortisol play a critical role in your body’s ability to perform even the most basic functions. They’re hugely responsible for your body’s metabolic processes, regulating blood pressure, food digestion, and stress management. Another important adrenal hormone that the body produces is dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which is responsible for the production of both male and female hormones known as estrogens and androgens.

How is Adrenal Insufficiency Diagnosed?

Diagnosing adrenal insufficiency can be really tough, especially in the beginning when it’s just starting out. However, through a thorough examination of your medical history and the symptoms being exhibited, it is possible to make an accurate diagnosis.

However, your physician will have to perform blood and urine tests in order to confirm the diagnosis and to find out what is the cause of the disease.

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