Adrenocortical hypofunction; Chronic adrenocortical insufficiency; Primary adrenal insufficiency
Addison disease is a disorder that causes the adrenal glands to not produce enough hormones.
The adrenal glands are small hormone-releasing organs located on top of each kidney. They are made up of an outer portion, called the cortex, and an inner portion, called the medulla.
The cortex produces 3 hormones:
Addison disease results from damage to the adrenal cortex. The damage causes the cortex to produce hormone levels that are too low.
This damage may be caused by the following:
Risk factors for the autoimmune type of Addison disease include other autoimmune diseases:
Certain rare genetic defects may also cause adrenal insufficiency.
Symptoms of Addison disease may include any of the following:
Symptoms may not be present all the time. Many people have some or all of these symptoms when they have an infection or other stress on the body. Other times, they have no symptoms.
Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about the symptoms.
Blood tests will likely be ordered and may show:
Additional laboratory tests may be ordered.
Other tests may include:
Treatment with replacement corticosteroids and mineralocorticoids will control the symptoms of this disease. These medicines usually need to be taken for life.
Never skip doses of your medicine for this condition because life-threatening reactions may occur.
Your provider may tell you to increase your dosage for a short time because of:
During an extreme form of adrenal insufficiency, called adrenal crisis, you must inject hydrocortisone right away. Treatment for low blood pressure is usually needed as well.
Some people with Addison disease (or family members) are taught to give themselves an emergency injection of hydrocortisone during stressful situations. Always carry medical ID (card, bracelet, or necklace) that says you have adrenal insufficiency. The ID should also say the type of medicine and dosage you need in case of an emergency.
With hormone therapy, many people with Addison disease are able to lead a nearly normal life.
Complications can occur if you take too little or too much adrenal hormone.
Contact your provider if:
If you have symptoms of adrenal crisis, give yourself an emergency injection of your prescribed medicine. If it is not available, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911 or the local emergency number.
Symptoms of adrenal crisis include:
Bornstein SR, Allolio B, Arlt W, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of primary adrenal insufficiency: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016;101(2):364-389. PMID: PMC4880116 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4880116/.
Newell-Price JDC, Auchus RJ. The adrenal cortex. In: Melmed S, Auchus RJ, Goldfine AB, Koenig RJ, Rosen CJ, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 15.
Nieman LK. Adrenal cortex. In: Goldman L, Cooney KA, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 27th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2024:chap 208.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 5/12/2023
Reviewed By: Sandeep K. Dhaliwal, MD, board-certified in Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, Springfield, VA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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