ResoundingHealth
Search
  
Casebook
Overview

Name: Addison's disease

Description: Adrenal insufficiency

This casebook is published and has been read 1046 times.

The author of this casebook has identified the following medical topics as being highly relevant to this casebook.

  • Addison's disease -- disease characterized by hypotension, weight loss, anorexia, weakness, and sometimes a bronze-like melanotic hyperpigmentation of the skin; due to tuberculosis or autoimmune induced disease (hypofunction) of the adrenal glands that results in deficiency of aldosterone and cortisol.
Notes

Addison's disease is an endocrine or hormonal disorder that occurs in all age groups and afflicts men and women equally. The disease is characterized by weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and sometimes darkening of the skin in both exposed and nonexposed parts of the body.

Addison's disease occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone cortisol and, in some cases, the hormone aldosterone. The disease is also called adrenal insufficiency, or hypocortisolism.

Cortisol

Cortisol is normally produced by the adrenal glands, located just above the kidneys. It belongs to a class of hormones called glucocorticoids, which affect almost every organ and tissue in the body. Scientists think that cortisol has possibly hundreds of effects in the body. Cortisol's most important job is to help the body respond to stress. Among its other vital tasks, cortisol

  • helps maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular function
  • helps slow the immune system's inflammatory response
  • helps balance the effects of insulin in breaking down sugar for energy
  • helps regulate the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
  • helps maintain proper arousal and sense of well-being

Because cortisol is so vital to health, the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenals is precisely balanced. Like many other hormones, cortisol is regulated by the brain's hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, a bean-sized organ at the base of the brain. First, the hypothalamus sends "releasing hormones" to the pituitary gland. The pituitary responds by secreting hormones that regulate growth and thyroid and adrenal function, and sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. One of the pituitary's main functions is to secrete ACTH (adrenocorticotropin), a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands. When the adrenals receive the pituitary's signal in the form of ACTH, they respond by producing cortisol. Completing the cycle, cortisol then signals the pituitary to lower secretion of ACTH.

Aldosterone

Aldosterone belongs to a class of hormones called mineralocorticoids, also produced by the adrenal glands. It helps maintain blood pressure and water and salt balance in the body by helping the kidney retain sodium and excrete potassium. When aldosterone production falls too low, the kidneys are not able to regulate salt and water balance, causing blood volume and blood pressure to drop.

[Top]

Causes

Failure to produce adequate levels of cortisol can occur for different reasons. The problem may be due to a disorder of the adrenal glands themselves (primary adrenal insufficiency) or to inadequate secretion of ACTH by the pituitary gland (secondary adrenal insufficiency).

Primary Adrenal Insufficiency

Addison's disease affects about 1 in 100,000 people. Most cases are caused by the gradual destruction of the adrenal cortex, the outer layer of the adrenal glands, by the body's own immune system. About 70 percent of reported cases of Addison's disease are caused by autoimmune disorders, in which the immune system makes antibodies that attack the body's own tissues or organs and slowly destroy them. Adrenal insufficiency occurs when at least 90 percent of the adrenal cortex has been destroyed. As a result, often both glucocorticoid (cortisol) and mineralocorticoid (aldostertone) hormones are lacking. Sometimes only the adrenal gland is affected, as in idiopathic adrenal insufficiency; sometimes other glands also are affected, as in the polyendocrine deficiency syndrome.

Polyendocrine Deficiency Syndrome

The polyendocrine deficiency syndrome is classified into two separate forms, referred to as type I and type II.

Type I occurs in children, and adrenal insufficiency may be accompanied by

  • underactive parathyroid glands
  • slow sexual development
  • pernicious anemia
  • chronic candida infections
  • chronic active hepatitis
  • hair loss (in very rare cases)

Type II, often called Schmidt's syndrome, usually afflicts young adults. Features of type II may include

  • an underactive thyroid gland
  • slow sexual development
  • diabetes
  • vitiligo
  • loss of pigment on areas of the skin

Scientists think that the polyendocrine deficiency syndrome is inherited because frequently more than one family member tends to have one or more endocrine deficiencies.

Tuberculosis

Bookmarks The following information, which has been distilled by the casebook author from this and other websites is particularly relevant to this casebook.
Bookmarks - Web
Web Page Notes Concepts
 Addison's disease Extensive information from National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Info. Service
 
 Addison's Disease: MedlinePlus Overview from Medline Plus (Addison's disease)
 
 http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/hormone/910.printerview.html Overview from the American Academy of Family Physicians (Addison's disease)
 
 Addison's disease: All - MayoClinic.com Good overview from Mayo Clinic (Addison's disease)
 
 Addison's Disease - NADF Good overview from National Adrenal Diseases Foundation (Addison's disease)
 

This web-site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your doctor. It should not to be used for self-diagnosis or treatment.