(Adrenal Insufficiency; Adrenocortical Hypofunction; Chronic Adrenocortical Insufficiency; Hypoadrenalism)
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Addison disease happens when the adrenal glands do not make enough of a hormone called cortisol. It helps the body with things like blood pressure, metabolism, and the immune system. Aldosterone hormone levels may also be low.
The disease may be:
A severe problem from this disease is Addisonian or adrenal crisis. It can be deadly.
Primary Addison disease is caused by problems with the outer layer of the adrenal gland. This can happen slowly over time.
Addison disease is most often caused when the immune system attacks the gland. It is not known why this happens.
Harm may also be caused by infections, such as:
Less common causes are:
Secondary Addison disease can be caused by harm to the pituitary gland. This gland sends hormones that control the adrenal gland.
This disease may also happen after long-term corticosteroids are stopped.
This disease is more common in women.
Other things that may raise the risk are:
Problems may be:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Blood and urine tests may be done to check hormone levels.
Pictures may be taken. This can be done with:
There is no cure. The goal is to manage symptoms and lower the risk of adrenal crisis.
Medicines will be given to replace missing hormones. The dose may need to be raised during times of stress or sickness, such as surgery, pregnancy, or trauma.
There are no known guidelines to lower the risk of this problem.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Adrenal Diseases Foundation
The Canadian Addison Society
Adrenal insufficiency and Addison's disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
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Accessed October 27, 2020.
Adrenal insufficiency in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/adrenal-insufficiency-in-adults. Accessed October 27, 2020.
Charmandari E, Nicolaides NC, et al. Adrenal insufficiency. Lancet. 2014 Jun 21;383(9935):2152-2167.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 4/30/2021
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