When we're rushing around in this busy world, it's easy to miss hints that our body is not working quite as it should. Pain demands attention and is hard to ignore, but the signs of some potentially serious ailments are more stealthy, such as thyroid problems and adrenal imbalances like Addison's Disease.
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Definition of Addison's Disease
Addison's Disease is a rare hormonal disorder sometimes referred to as hypocortisolism. It involves insufficient levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone that controls the body's reserves of protein, and it affects one in about 100,000. Some sufferers of Addison's Disease may also have low levels of aldosterone, a hormone that maintains renal sodium.
Similar Thyroid Problems
According to Drs. Richard and Karilee Shames, there is a significant connection between low thyroid problems (hypothyroidism) and adrenal malfunctions such as Addison's Disease (see Reference 1). Low levels of adrenal hormones can exacerbate thyroid problems. Thyroid problems tend to be hereditary.
Some women with Addison's Disease may experience menstrual difficulties. Periods become spotty or stop altogether. In instances of hypothyroidism, however, the exact opposite occurs--periods may become more frequent and painful. Addison's Disease can produce a darkening of the skin known as hyperpigmentation, most commonly on scar tissue and pressure points. Hypothyrodism can produce skin changes as well, making it dry or scaly. A medical examination might also reveal low blood sugar, low serum sodium, and low blood pressure, all common to Addison's Disease. About half the patients suffering from Addison's Disease complain of nausea, vomiting, and chronic diarrhoea, though hypothyroidism produces the exact opposite bowel change and causes long-term constipation. Lesions known as buccal mucosa might develop in the mouth.
The symptoms of Addison's Disease develop slowly and gradually, so they are easy to overlook. Some indications that you might be dealing with low levels of cortisol include fatigue--you're getting the usual amount of sleep but you wake up tired anyway--and a feeling of sluggishness. Weight loss can be inexplicable, but it can also be the result of a noticeable decrease in appetite. Irritability and depression are common. One notable symptom of Addison's Disease is a craving for salt when decreased levels of aldosterone are insufficient to maintain the body's salt levels properly.
If signs and symptoms of early stage Addison's Disease go undiagnosed, they can worsen suddenly in the event of an accident or sudden illness. This is known as Addisonian Crisis, and symptoms can increase to include debilitating pain in the back or abdomen, dehydration, and even unconsciousness. This occurs in approximately 25% of those afflicted with Addison's Disease because they do not recognise the early warning signs.
Treatment for Addisonian Crisis, including intravenous doses of hydrocortisone, saline, and sugar, usually brings immediate improvement. Both thyroid conditions and adrenal deficiencies such as Addison's are treated by replacing and/or supplementing the hormones that are lacking. In the case of cortisol deficiencies, hydrocortisone tablets are prescribed. When aldosterone levels are coincidentally low, fludrocortisone acetate doses may be added.
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