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Primary Adrenal Insufficiency

Cortisol belongs to a class of hormones called glucocorticoids, which affect almost every organ and tissue in the body. Scientists think that cortisol has possibly hundreds of effects in the body. Cortisol's most important job is to help the body respond to stress. Among its other vital tasks, cortisol helps:
  • Maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular function
  • Slow the immune system's inflammatory response
  • Balance the effects of insulin in breaking down sugar for energy
  • Regulate the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
  • Maintain proper arousal and sense of well-being.
Because cortisol is so vital to health, the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenals is precisely balanced.
Aldosterone belongs to a class of hormones called mineralocorticoids, also produced by the adrenal glands. Aldosterone helps maintain blood pressure and water and salt balance in the body by helping the kidney retain sodium and excrete potassium. When aldosterone production falls too low, the kidneys are not able to regulate salt and water balance, causing blood volume and blood pressure to drop.

Causes of Primary Adrenal Insufficiency

Primary adrenal insufficiency occurs because of the destruction of the adrenal cortex. As a result, both cortisol and aldosterone hormones are often lacking. Primary adrenal insufficiency symptoms usually begin when at least 90 percent of the adrenal cortex has been destroyed.
In about 70 percent of primary adrenal insufficiency cases, the destruction of the adrenal cortex occurs by the body's own immune system (autoimmune disease).
Normally the immune system protects the body against infection and disease. In an autoimmune disease, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks some part of your own body. In primary adrenal insufficiency, the immune system attacks the adrenal cortex. Why the immune system attacks adrenal cortex is unknown.
Other causes of primary adrenal insufficiency can include:
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Addison's Disease Information

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