Skip to content

    Understanding Addison's Disease

    Understanding Addison's Disease -- the Basics

    What Is Addison's Disease?

    One way the body keeps itself in balance is by using chemical messengers called hormones to regulate various functions. Just above each of your kidneys is a small adrenal gland. These glands make hormones essential to a healthy life. When they don't make enough of these hormones, Addison's disease is the result.

    Addison's disease is a rare condition. Only one in 100,000 people has it. It can happen at any age to either men or women. People with Addison's disease can lead normal lives as long as they take their medication. President John F. Kennedy had the condition.

    Understanding Addison's Disease

    Find out more about Addison's disease:

    Basics

    Symptoms

    Diagnosis and Treatment

    In Addison's disease, the adrenal glands don't make enough of a hormone called cortisol, or less often, a related hormone called aldosterone. That's why doctors sometimes call the illness ''chronic adrenal insufficiency,'' or hypocortisolism.

    Cortisol's most important function is to help the body respond to stress. It also helps regulate your body's use of protein, carbohydrates, and fat; helps maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular function; and controls inflammation. Aldosterone helps your kidneys regulate the amount of salt and water in your body -- the main way you regulate blood volume and keep your blood pressure under control. When aldosterone levels drop too low, your kidneys cannot keep your salt and water levels in balance. This makes your blood pressure drop.

    There are two forms of Addison's disease. If the problem is with the adrenal glands themselves, it's called primary adrenal insufficiency. If the adrenal glands are affected by a problem starting somewhere else -- such as the pituitary gland -- it's called secondary adrenal insufficiency.

    What Causes Addison's Disease?

    Most cases of Addison’s disease result from a problem with the adrenal glands themselves (primary adrenal insufficiency). Autoimmune disease accounts for 70% of Addison’s disease. This occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the adrenal glands. This autoimmune assault destroys the outer layer of the glands.

    Long-lasting infections -- such as tuberculosis, HIV, and some fungal infections -- can harm the adrenal glands. Cancer cells that spread from other parts of the body to the adrenal glands also can cause Addison's disease.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Next Article:

    Understanding Addison's Disease Topics

    Hot Topics

    WebMD Video: Now Playing

    Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

    Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

    disciplining a boy
    Types, symptoms, causes.
    fruit drinks
    Eat these to think better.
    embarrassed woman
    Do you feel guilty after eating?
    diabetes supply kit
    Pack and prepare.
    handful of vegetables and vitamins
    Diet tips and mistakes.
    birth control pills
    Which kind is right for you?
    Remember your finger
    Are you getting more forgetful?
    sticky notes on face
    10 tips to clear your brain fog.
    Close up of eye
    12 reasons you're distracted.
    Trainer demonstrating exercise for RA
    Exercises for your joints.
    apple slices with peanut butter
    What goes best with workouts?
    woman having a good day
    Revitalize your life.

    Women's Health Newsletter

    Find out what women really need.