ID: 175
Category: Endocrinology
CreatedBy: 1
UpdatedBy: 1
createdon: 15 Feb 2023
updatedon: 25 May 2023

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Author: Khoa Tran
Published Feb 15, 2023
Updated May 25, 2023

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Addison's Disease (Adrenal Insufficiency)

Etymology and Pronunciation

Addison's disease (AD-uh-sunz dih-ZEEZ)

The word "Addison's" refers to the surname of Thomas Addison, the British physician who first described the condition in 1855. The disease is a type of hormonal disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands don't produce enough cortisol and aldosterone. The name "adrenal" comes from the Latin word "ad-renal" which means "near the kidney" because the adrenal glands are located just above the kidneys.

History of Addison's Disease (Adrenal Insufficiency)

Addison's disease was first described in 1855 by the Irish doctor Thomas Addison. He discovered that the disease was caused by damage to the adrenal glands, which produce essential hormones for the body. 

Addison was able to make this discovery by observing patients with a group of symptoms such as fatigue, weight loss, low blood pressure, and skin discoloration. He found that these symptoms were associated with changes in the adrenal glands. 

By the mid-19th century, chemical analysis was also becoming more widespread. This technology allowed doctors to measure levels of hormones in the body and helped to confirm Addison's theory that the adrenal glands were involved in the disease. 

Today, we have even more advanced medical technology such as MRI and CT scans, which allow doctors to examine the adrenal glands and other organs in greater detail. Blood tests and genetic testing can also be used to help diagnose Addison's disease, enabling medical professionals to provide better treatment and care for patients.

Modern Understanding of Addison's Disease (Adrenal Insufficiency)

Addison's disease is a condition that occurs when the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys, do not produce enough of certain hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone. These hormones are important in regulating the body's response to stress and maintaining blood pressure, among other functions.

The adrenal gland is an organ above the kidneys responsible for making cortisol (stress hormone) and aldosterone.
- Glucocorticoids. These hormones, including cortisol, affect the body's ability to turn food into energy. They also play a role in the immune system's inflammatory response and help the body respond to stress.
- Mineralocorticoids. These hormones, including aldosterone, balance the body's sodium and potassium to keep blood pressure in a healthy range.
- Androgens. In all people, the adrenal glands make small amounts of these sex hormones. They cause male sexual development. And they affect muscle mass, sex drive, known as libido, and a sense of well-being in all people.

The most common symptoms of Addison's disease include fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, and darkening of the skin. In some cases, individuals with Addison's disease may experience a life-threatening condition called an adrenal crisis, which can cause severe symptoms such as sudden pain in the abdomen, lower back, or legs, as well as confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures.

Diagnosis of Addison's disease involves a physical exam, blood tests to check hormone levels, and a stimulation test to evaluate the adrenal glands' ability to respond to stress. If left untreated, Addison's disease can lead to serious complications, such as a sudden drop in blood pressure, electrolyte imbalances, and coma.

Causes of Addison's Disease (Adrenal Insufficiency)

Addison's disease is a medical condition caused by the insufficient production of hormones by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are small glands located on top of each kidney, and they produce hormones that help regulate various bodily functions, such as blood pressure, metabolism, and response to stress.

The most common cause of Addison's disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the adrenal glands and damages or destroys them. Other less common causes include infection, hemorrhage, surgery, and genetic mutations.

Infection, such as tuberculosis or fungal infections, can damage the adrenal glands and cause Addison's disease. Additionally, hemorrhage, which can occur following surgery or injury, can cause a sudden loss of blood and damage to the adrenal glands.

Certain genetic mutations can also lead to the development of Addison's disease. For example, mutations in the genes responsible for producing enzymes that are essential for cortisol synthesis can lead to insufficient hormone production.

Treatments for Addison's Disease (Adrenal Insufficiency)

Treatment for Addison's disease involves hormone replacement therapy, which typically involves taking medications to replace the missing hormones. Lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management may also be recommended to help manage symptoms.

It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any persistent or unusual symptoms, as early detection and treatment of Addison's disease can help prevent complications and improve overall health.


Salt craving
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
Increased appetite
Weight loss
Weak pulse / low blood pressure
Abdominal pain
Tenderness in joints
Joint pain and stiffness

Confirmation Tests

- Blood test
- ACTH stimulation test
- Insulin-induced hypoglycemia test
- CT scan

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