Autoimmune Adrenal Insufficiency
Autoimmune adrenal insufficiency is the most common form of Addison's disease, a condition in which the adrenal glands stop producing certain hormones. This insufficiency occurs when a person's own immune system mistakenly attacks the adrenal cortex. The condition is caused by many factors, and autoimmune disease is most often responsible.
Addison's disease is a medical condition in which the adrenal glands stop making hormones that are important for certain bodily functions. It is characterized by weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and sometimes darkening of the skin in both exposed and nonexposed parts of the body. Autoimmune adrenal insufficiency is the most common type of Addison's.
Addison's disease is also called primary adrenal insufficiency, or hypocortisolism.
It affected the late President John F. Kennedy, and currently affects about 1 in 100,000 people.
There are two adrenal glands, one above each kidney in the back of the upper abdomen (stomach). The adrenal glands are also called the suprarenal glands. The inside layer of the adrenal gland is called the adrenal medulla. The adrenal medulla produces epinephrine (adrenaline). The outside layer is called the adrenal cortex. The cells in the adrenal cortex make important hormones that help the body function properly -- namely, aldosterone and cortisol.
Aldosterone belongs to a class of hormones called mineralocorticoids, also produced by the adrenal glands. It helps maintain blood pressure and water and salt balance in the body by helping the kidneys retain sodium and excrete potassium. When aldosterone production falls too low, the kidneys are not able to regulate salt and water balance, which causes blood volume and blood pressure to drop.