Autoimmune Adrenal Insufficiency
In its early stages, Addison's disease can be difficult to diagnose. After asking a number of questions and performing a physical exam, the doctor may recommend certain tests. These can include:
- ACTH stimulation test
- CRH stimulation test
- ACTH and cortisol blood levels
- Abdominal x-rays.
There is no cure for Addison's disease. However, symptoms can be controlled with medications. Treatment involves replacing, or substituting, the hormones that the adrenal glands are not making.
Most people with Addison's disease should expect to lead healthy lives with a normal life expectancy.
(Click Addison's Disease Treatment for more information about how this condition is managed.)
Addison's disease occurs because of the destruction of the adrenal cortex. As a result, both cortisol and aldosterone hormones are often lacking. Symptoms usually begin when at least 90 percent of the adrenal cortex has been destroyed.
Although there are numerous causes of Addison's disease, the most common cause, which is seen in 70 percent of cases, is autoimmune adrenal insufficiency. Autoimmune adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal cortex is mistakenly destroyed by the body's own immune system. Normally, the immune system protects the body against infection and disease. In an autoimmune disease, however, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks some part of your own body. Why the immune system attacks the adrenal cortex is unknown.
Other causes of Addison's disease can include:
- Sarcoidosis, amyloidosis, and hemochromatosis
- Surgical removal of the adrenal glands
- Chronic infection, mainly fungal infections
- Cancer (especially breast cancer) cells spreading from other parts of the body to the adrenal glands.