Menu

Understanding Addison's Disease -- Symptoms

Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on April 21, 2021

What Are the Symptoms of Addison's Disease?

Over time, Addison's disease, also known as primary adrenal insufficiency, leads to these symptoms:

  • Chronic fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Loss of appetite, inability to digest food, and weight loss
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension) that falls further when standing; this causes dizziness, sometimes to the point of fainting.
  • Blotchy, dark tanning and freckling of the skin; this is most noticeable on parts of the body exposed to the sun, but also occurs in unexposed areas like the gums. Darkened skin is particularly likely to occur on the forehead, knees, and elbows or along scars, skin folds, and creases (such as on the palms).
  • Low blood sugar, including dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Inability to cope with stress
  • Moodiness, irritability, and depression
  • Intolerance to heat or cold
  • Craving for salty foods

Some of these symptoms may indicate conditions other than Addison's disease.

Because symptoms of Addison's disease progress slowly, they may go unrecognized until a physically stressful event, such as another illness, surgery, or an accident, worsens symptoms quickly. When this happens, it's called an Addisonian crisis. For one in four people with Addison's disease, this is the first time they realize they are ill. An Addisonian crisis is considered a medical emergency because it can be fatal.

Symptoms of an Addisonian crisis include:

  • Shock, when the body does not get enough blood flow
  • Multiple organ failure, including kidneys, if circulation of blood cannot be restored
  • Sudden penetrating pain in the lower back, abdomen, or legs
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea, followed by dehydration
  • Fever
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

The Mayo Clinic. 

National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases. 

National Adrenal Diseases Foundation. 

Jeremy Sussman, PhD, University of California Berkeley.

UpToDate: "Definition, classification, etiology, and pathophysiology of shock in adults."

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.