Some time ago, the most common cause of the disease was tuberculosis, which affected the adrenal glands. Currently, as there is greater control over tuberculosis, the most frequent cause is ‘idiopathic’: an autoimmune origin in which the body attacks the organs themselves.
Although the symptoms can appear at any age, it is more common between thirty and eighty years, having its peak of appearance at forty. Like many endocrine diseases, it is more common among women than among men.
Causes of Addison’s disease
We have said that talking about Addison’s disease is equivalent to adrenal insufficiency; we must understand then what the adrenal glands are and what function they fulfill.
The adrenal glands are two and are located on top of each kidney, in the abdominal cavity. Internally, each of them is made up of two parts:
Adrenal medulla: is the internal part of the gland and responsible for forming hormones similar structure to adrenaline.
Adrenal cortex: is the outer layer of each gland and has the function of forming corticosteroid hormones. Within the corticosteroids formed here, we can name:
Glucocorticoids: cortisol is the most relevant, with metabolic, inflammatory and stress response functions.
Mineralocorticoids: aldosterone is the main one, which regulates sodium and body potassium.
Androgens: male sex hormones.
In Addison’s disease, the problem lies in the destruction of the cortex of the adrenal glands. Without bark, the body lacks enough cortisol and aldosterone. The symptoms of the pathology are explained, precisely, by the lack of these hormones.
These are causes of the destruction of the adrenal cortex:
Isolated autoimmune: the body specifically attacks the adrenal gland with antibodies.
Autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome: autoimmune disease in which the body attacks different glands at the same time.
Infections: fungal infection or tuberculosis.
Tumors: of the own gland or metastasis of cancers originated in other organs.
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Symptoms of the disease:
In Addison’s disease, symptoms appear insidiously. That is the most common form of presentation. Slowly, different signs become evident, but this generates confusion in the diagnosis. Some symptoms go unnoticed or mimic those of other pathologies.
The problem in the delay of the diagnosis is the seriousness that can take the evolution of the Addison, putting in danger the life of the person who suffers it. Among the most frequent symptoms are:
- Loss of appetite
- Hyperpigmentation of the skin: darkening in certain areas.
- Low blood pressure.
- Hypoglycemia: low blood sugar level.
- Asthenia: fatigue, lack of strength.
- Muscle pains.
A special presentation of the disease is the acute crisis, where several symptoms of those listed previously appear suddenly. It is an acute adrenal insufficiency. The outcome can be a deadly shock if not treated properly and immediately. The Addisonian crisis is a vital emergency.