Addison's disease, also called adrenal insufficiency or hypocortisolism, is a rare endocrine (hormonal) disorder that is characterized by weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and occasional darkening of the skin.
Addison's disease is named after Dr. Thomas Addison, who first identified adrenal insufficiency in 1849. The disease occurs when the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormone cortisol and, in some cases, the hormone aldosterone.
The adrenal glands, located just above each of the two kidneys, secrete cortisol, also called hydrocortisone. Cortisol regulates proper glucose metabolism, blood pressure, and insulin release for blood sugar maintenance and it is involved in the inflammatory response. When the adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol, symptoms of Addison's disease develop.
Aldosterone belongs to a class of hormones called mineralocorticoids. This hormone helps regulate blood pressure as well as the water and salt balance in the body by helping the kidneys retain sodium and expel potassium. When aldosterone production falls too low, the kidneys are not able to regulate the salt and water balance, subsequently causing blood volume and blood pressure to drop.
Addison's disease can occur at any age, but is most common in people ages 30 to 50. Researchers estimate that about one out of 100,000 people have Addison's disease. The disease is slightly more common in females than men. Researchers estimate that the male to female ratio is about 1:1.5-3.5
Treatment for Addison's involves replacing the hormones that the adrenal glands are not producing with medication. Corticosteroids like hydrocortisone (A-hydroCort®, Cortef®, Hydrocortone®, Hydrocortone® Acetate, Hydrocortone® Phosphate, Solu-Cortef®) are used to replace cortisol. Mineralocorticoids like fludrocortisone (Florinef®) are used to replace aldosterone.
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