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Primary Adrenal Insufficiency

What Are the Symptoms?

Primary adrenal insufficiency symptoms usually begin gradually. Common symptoms of primary adrenal insufficiency include:
  • Chronic fatigue that progressively worsens
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood pressure that falls further when standing, causing dizziness or fainting
  • Skin changes with areas of hyperpigmentation, or dark tanning, covering exposed and non-exposed parts of the body. This darkening of the skin is most visible on scars, skin folds, pressure points (such as the elbows, knees, knuckles, and toes), lips, and mucous membranes.
(Click Symptoms of Addison's Disease to learn more about primary adrenal insufficiency symptoms, including symptoms of an addisonian crisis.)

Diagnosing Primary Adrenal Insufficiency

In its early stages, it can be difficult to make a primary adrenal insufficiency diagnosis. After asking a number of questions and performing a physical exam, the doctor may recommend certain tests as part of primary adrenal insufficiency testing. These tests can include:
  • ACTH stimulation test
  • CRH stimulation test
  • ACTH and cortisol blood levels
  • Abdominal x-rays.

How Is It Treated?

There is no cure for primary adrenal insufficiency. However, it can be controlled with medications. Treatment involves replacing, or substituting, the hormones that the adrenal glands are not making.
Most people with primary adrenal insufficiency should expect to lead healthy lives with a normal life expectancy.
(Click Addison's Disease Treatment for more information.)
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