Addison’s disease: Symptoms and signs

Addison’s disease is a disorder in which the adrenal glands contain inadequate hormones. We’ll explain the signs in this article.

Diagnosing Addison’s disease can take some time because the initial signs and symptoms are similar to many other conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, flu, and depression.

Signs and symptoms begin to grow gradually and the identification can take some time.

Initial symptoms

A lady fainted
Fainting is one of the more dramatic symptoms of Addison’s disease.

Initial signs and symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • lack of motivation, lack of drive
  • drowsiness and lethargy
  • muscle weakness
  • irritability
  • mild depression, changes in mood and personality
  • hypovolemia – or low blood volume
  • unintentional weight loss
  • loss of body hair
  • lack of appetite
  • hypotension – low blood pressure
  • difficulty in standing up
  • anxiety
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • headache
  • muscle and joint pain
  • craving for foods with a high salt content, due to urinary loss of sodium
  • hypoglycemia – low blood sugar
  • fainting
  • irregular menstrual periods, in some cases periods are missed completely
  • sexual dysfunction (in women)
  • psychosis (very rare)

Some people may experience orthostatic hypotension, a sudden drop in blood pressure, particularly when going from sitting or lying to standing. TYhis can cause people to faint.

Another common symptom is hyperpigmentation – darkening of an area of skin or nails. Hyperpigmentation usually occurs in the creases of hand palms, scars, knuckles, or knees in cases of Addison’s disease.

Another illness or accident may cause a sudden worsening of symptoms.

Acute adrenal failure

Severe vomiting is a symptom of acute adrenal failure.
Severe vomiting is a symptom of acute adrenal failure.

Addisonian crisis or adrenal crisis is also known as acute adrenal failure. Adrenal crisis is a medical emergency and can cause death if immediate medical attention is not sought.

Sometimes the Addison ‘s disease signs and symptoms may appear suddenly, as is the case with acute adrenal failure.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • psychosis, confusion, or altered mental status
  • severe abdominal pain
  • elecrolyte abnormalities, such as hyperkalemia – high potassium- or hyponatremia (low sodium)
  • extreme muscle weakness caused by electrolyte abnormalities
  • arrythmias (from hyperkalemia)
  • loss of consciousness
  • lethargy
  • acute back or leg pain
  • seizure
  • clinically significant hypotension (low blood pressure) or shock, which may lead to organ damage or failure from lack of oxygen
  • severe vomiting and diarrhea that may cause dehydration

If the Addison ‘s disease is left untreated, an adrenal crisis may occur, allowing the levels of cortisol and aldosterone in the body to gradually drop. It can also happen when someone who has been taking steroids for a long time suddenly stops.

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