Endocrine System Home > Primary Adrenal Insufficiency

Primary adrenal insufficiency is an incurable condition that occurs as the result of the destruction of the adrenal cortex. When the adrenal glands stop producing hormones that are important for certain bodily functions, a person begins to develop symptoms such as chronic fatigue, weight loss, muscle weakness, and low blood pressure. Because the symptoms typically progress slowly, they are usually ignored until a stressful event causes them to become worse -- this is called acute adrenal insufficiency.

What Is Primary Adrenal Insufficiency?

Primary adrenal insufficiency 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 non-exposed parts of the body.
Primary adrenal insufficiency is also called Addison's disease, or hypocortisolism.
This condition affected the late President John F. Kennedy, and currently affects about 1 in 100,000 people.

Understanding the Adrenal Glands

There are two adrenal glands, one above each kidney in the back of the upper abdomen. 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. The two hormones are cortisol and aldosterone.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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