Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency) and low cortisol hormone levels

Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency) and low cortisol hormone levelsAddison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency) is characterized by low cortisol hormones. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and when levels are high it can have a negative impact on our health. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands, but if the adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol, it can lead to Addison’s disease.

Addison’s disease can affect anyone at any age and, if severe enough, it can even be life-threatening. Common treatment for Addison’s disease is taking hormones that mimic the supply your adrenal glands would naturally produce.

Causes and symptoms of Addison’s disease


Causes and symptoms of Addison’s diseaseAddison’s disease occurs when the adrenal glands become damaged and cannot produce a sufficient amount of cortisol and aldosterone. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and produce hormones used by every part of the body.

The adrenal glands are responsible for producing life-essential hormones, such as glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and androgens.

Primary adrenal insufficiency is when the adrenal glands are damaged and can’t produce enough hormones. This can be caused by tuberculosis, infection of the adrenal glands, cancer spreading to the adrenal glands, and bleeding into the adrenal glands.

Secondary adrenal insufficiency is when the pituitary gland becomes diseased. The pituitary gland produces a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH stimulates the adrenal cortex in order to produce hormones. If there is not enough ACTH, then other hormones will not be produced by the adrenal glands, even if the glands are not damaged themselves.

Symptoms of Addison’s disease are:

  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite
  • Darkening of the skin
  • Low blood pressure – fainting
  • Salt craving
  • Hypoglycemia – low blood sugar
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Loss of body hair and sexual function in women

An addisonian crisis occurs when Addison’s disease is untreated and becomes triggered by injury, trauma or stress. Symptoms of an addisonian crisis are:

  • Pain in lower back, abdomen or legs
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • High potassium

Treatment for Addison’s disease

Treatment for Addison’s disease involves hormone replacement therapy. This is done to normalize hormone levels that are not being produced in the body. Hormone replacement treatments include:

  • Oral corticosteroids
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Androgen replacement therapy

Consuming sodium is also important; it can prevent dehydration because salt retains water. An increase in medications may also be required if you’re experiencing more stress than normal.

Treatment of an addisonian crisis are:

  • Hydrocortisone
  • Saline solution
  • Sugar

This treatment is intended to prevent low blood pressure and blood sugar as well as reduce high levels of potassium. These treatment options are administered intravenously.

Related Reading:

Stress hormone cortisol boosts recall of traumatic memories

We all get stressed time and time again. Ultimately, it’s how we handle our stress that determines our health outcomes. An example of bad stress would be the kind associated with a traumatic experience. For example, this could be losing a loved one or being in a car accident. Continue reading…


5 stress triggers you didn’t know

There are many obvious triggers recognized as stress intensifiers; a sudden deadline, meeting new people or even an accident can have our hearts pounding and our palms sweating. But then there are triggers which we may not even consciously be aware of that are causing us to be stressed. By recognizing these triggers we can better understand our stress and work to minimize it. Continue reading…


Author Bio

Mohan Garikiparithi got his degree in medicine from Osmania University (University of Health Sciences). He practiced clinical medicine for over a decade before he shifted his focus to the field of health communications. During his active practice he served as the head of the Dept. of Microbiology in a diagnostic centre in India. On a three-year communications program in Germany, Mohan developed a keen interest in German Medicine (Homoeopathy), and other alternative systems of medicine. He now advocates treating different medical conditions without the use of traditional drugs. An ardent squash player, Mohan believes in the importance of fitness and wellness.