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Addison's Disease - Topic Overview

How is Addison's disease diagnosed?

To diagnose Addison’s disease, the doctor will ask about your health, such as if you have had cancer or have HIV or if you have a family history of Addison's disease. You'll also have a physical exam so the doctor can look for changes in your skin color, check your blood pressure, and look for signs of dehydration.

Your doctor may also order tests, such as:

  • Blood tests to check for high potassium or low sodium levels. Your cortisol and ACTH levels may be checked too.
  • ACTH stimulation test to see how your hormone levels react to stress.
  • Imaging tests, such as a CT scan or an MRI, to look for damage to the adrenal glands.

How is it treated?

Treatment includes medicine, self-care, and being prepared for when your body is under stress. If your doctor thinks that you have Addison’s disease, he or she may start treatment right away, even before you get your test results.

Take your medicine as prescribed. You will need to take medicine for the rest of your life to replace the cortisol and aldosterone your body can't make on its own. You may take just one medicine, or you may need more than one.

Take care of yourself at home. You may need to:

  • Get enough salt in your diet, because your body may lose too much. You may need to add extra salt to your food during hot and humid weather or when you are exercising and sweating.
  • Weigh yourself regularly, especially if you haven't felt like eating or you have been vomiting.
  • Monitor your blood pressure. Let your doctor know if it's high or too low and causing you to feel lightheaded.
  • Get regular checkups. Your doctor needs to check on your symptoms, blood pressure, and hormone levels.

Be prepared for times when your body is under stress. Here are a few ways you can prepare:

  • Have a shot of emergency medicine with you at all times. Know when and how to give the medicine. Have instructions written out, and teach someone else how to give you the medicine in case you can't give it to yourself.
  • Wear a medical ID tag (such as a medical alert bracelet camera.gif). That way, health professionals know to give you a shot of cortisol if you are injured or ill and cannot speak for yourself.
  • Work with your doctor to create a plan for what to do when you're sick or when your body is under stress.

Finding out that you have Addison’s disease can be scary. But if you get treatment and follow your doctor’s advice, you can lead a long and healthy life.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 05, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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