Introduction to Addison’s disease
Addison’s disease is peculiar to the adrenal gland, a gland situated just above the kidney. It is a hormone-producing gland. The gland occurs in a pair and together they produce hormones and enzymes needed for specific body functions. It is a two-layered organ. The two layers are the medulla and the cortex. The cortex is in turn subdivided into three zones – glomerulosa, fasciculata and reticularis. The fasciculata and reticularis zones produce two important steroid hormones namely androgens and cortisol. The glomerulosa specializes in secreting aldosterone.
Cortisol is a stress hormone. By being a stress hormone, it helps the body to adjust to stressful situations. Aldosterone is an electrolyte-controlling hormone. It is directly involved in the control of two important ions in the body’s extracellular fluid. These two ions are potassium and sodium.
Addison’s disease is an outcome of an insufficient amount of these two hormones – cortisol and androgen. It, therefore, means that damage the adrenal cortex is damning of the secretion of these two hormones.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease
Addison’s disease comes with the following symptoms:
- weak muscles
- darkened skin
- weight loss
- decreased appetite
- decreased heart rate
- low blood sugar and pressure
- mouth sores
- salt penchant
- nausea and vomiting
Just like every student enrolled in a school is expected to keep advancing to another class with time, Addison’s disease when untreated can have a negative advancement. It will advance into what is called an Addisonian crisis. It is as life-threatening as touching a live wire.
If you or someone close to you should display any of the following symptoms of what I’m about to submit, kindly reach out to the emergency line – 911.
- mental agitation
- high fever
- loss of consciousness
- acute pain particularly in the belly, lower back or legs
The end of every untreated Addisonian crisis is shock and death.
Photo Credit: Global-Medicalsearch
Causes of Addison’s disease
Insufficiency of the adrenal gland! This could originate either from the gland itself or outside it. It will be called a primary insufficiency if it’s from the gland and a secondary insufficiency if it’s outside it. In primary insufficiency, the immune cells severely attack the cells of the adrenal gland for no just reason. In the process, the cells are damaged. Blood thinners, cancerous tumors, body infections and prolonged use of glucocorticoids can also be other causes of primary insufficiency.
In secondary adrenal insufficiency, the problem is beyond the adrenal gland. It is the fault of the brain center responsible for the issuing of command to the adrenal gland to release its hormones. That center is called the pituitary. The pituitary can’t issue a command to the adrenal gland to produce its hormones because the hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), is lacking. It is lacking because the pituitary gland can’t produce it due to some damage that has been done to its tissues. Another reason why there might be a secondary insufficiency is when you fail to take prescribed corticosteroids especially if you are asthmatic.
Risk factors for Addison’s disease
You are at a huge risk if you:
- are battling with any form of cancer
- are taking any blood thinner (anticoagulants)
- are having tuberculosis
- adrenal gland surgery
- Are having any autoimmune disease e.g. type 1 diabetes, Graves’ disease etc.
Diagnosis of Addison’s disease
Series of questions about your health will be asked by your doctor. He is doing this so as to take your medical history. He will also ask questions about your symptoms. He will take a step further to carry out some tests on you to assess your blood sodium and potassium levels. He might insist on having a detailed view of your adrenal gland through any of the medical digital scans e.g. CT scan, MRI scan etc.
Treatment for Addison’s disease
Having diagnosed what the actual problem is, your treatment will begin.
It is important to take all instructions given to you by the doctor regarding your treatment seriously. Don’t forget Addisonian crisis can be an outcome of an untreated or poorly managed Addison’s disease. Addisonian crisis is characterized by hypotension, hypoglycemia and hyper potassium blood levels.
I’m afraid to announce to you that you might have to live on glucocorticoids for the rest of your life except some miracle happens. That’s if you believe in miracles anyways! But really, you will be placed on a combination of glucocorticoids medications to help stop inflammation.
You will also undergo a hormone replacement therapy where hormones your adrenal glands are not making are artificially replaced.
You need at all times, an emergency kit by your side. Your doctor will give you an injectable corticosteroid in cases of emergencies. Personally, you might also want to keep handy, a medical alert card either as a bracelet or in your wallet. This will let others know your condition for possible help when the time arises.
Keep it low, I mean, your stress level!
The death of a dearly loved one or even an injury can put a whole lot of stress on you. Stress on its own can have a negative impact on your medications. Meditation and yoga can be very helpful for stress relief.
Permanent placement on medications! Good news is, hormone replacement medications, will help relieve symptoms a whole lot. You can still lead a productive life. Keep to instructions regarding your medications. No skipping of any dose. Stick to the scheduled timing. Should you experience any complications in the course of taking prescribed medications, see your doctor immediately. He will evaluate you again and prescribe an alternative medication for you. Make it as a point of duty to frequent your doctor’s office.