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What is Addison’s disease? What are the symptoms?

Addison’s disease (primary adrenal insufficiency) is a rare and progressive (worsening) disease that affects one in every 10,000 people. It affects people of all ages. The human body has two adrenal glands, one above each kidney. These glands form part of the endocrine system, which works with the nervous system and immune system to help your body cope with different events and stresses.

Addison’s disease is caused by the inability of the adrenal glands to produce enough regulatory hormones. Adrenaline is the best known of the hormones produced by the adrenal glands in the adrenal medulla (middle part of the gland). The adrenal cortex (outer part) also produces corticosteroids, which are important hormones. They contain cortisol, aldosterone and complementary sex hormones. If you have Addison’s disease, it is mainly your adrenal cortex that is affected. You cannot produce enough cortisol, and you often cannot produce enough aldosterone either.

Symptoms of Addison’s disease

Symptoms of Addison’s disease may include any or all of the following:

  • Appetite and weight loss
  • Nausea,
  • vomiting or diarrhea,
  • muscle weakness
  • Tiredness
  • low blood pressure
  • salt cravings
  • dehydration
  • hypoglycemia – low blood sugar levels (especially in children)
  • Scars on the skin and increased pigmentation in bony areas
  • Menstrual irregularity or absence of menstruation in women
  • Mood swings, mental confusion or unconsciousness.

These symptoms may develop rapidly (especially in children and teenagers) or progress slowly over years. Many symptoms can mimic other diseases, so diagnosis may be delayed.

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