Structural Biochemistry/Addison's Disease

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What is Addison's Disease?[edit]

Addison's disease is a disorder that occurs when the adrenal glands produces insufficient amounts of particular hormones. Typically, with Addison's disease, the adrenal glads to not produce enough cortisol and aldosterone.

Addison's disease is also known as adrenal insufficiency. It can affect people of all ages and both genders. It can also be found life-threatening.

The three hormones produced by the cortex are: the glucocorticoid hormones, the mineralocorticoid hormones and sex hormones. Glucocorticoid hormones such as cortisol, maintain glucose levels and decrease immune response, while helping the body to respond to stress. Mineralocorticoid hormones such as aldosterone help regulate and balance potassium and sodium levels. Sex hormones such as androgens in males and estrogens in females, affect sex drive and and work with the body during sexual development.

Causes of Addison's Disease[edit]

Addison's disease is caused by damage to the adrenal cortex, glands located just above the kidneys. The damaged adrenal cortex produces less hormones.

Addison's disease occurs when there is damage to the adrenal cortex, affecting the adrenal glands. The damage to the adrenal cortex causes the cortex to produce less of its hormones. This damage could be due to a number of incidences. For example, the immune system may mistakenly attack the adrenal glands, developing an autoimmune disease. Infections such as tuberculosis, HIV, or fungal infections may also occur. Tumors and the use of blood-thinning drugs (anticoagulants) may also cause damage to the cortex.

Symptoms of Addison's Disease[edit]

Symptoms of Addison's disease typically develop slowly over several of months. Some symptoms may include:

  • Muscle weakness and fatigue
  • Weigh loss and decreased appetite
  • Darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation)
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Muscle or joint pains
  • Irritablity
  • Depression
  • Body hair loss or sexual dysfunction in women

Diagnosing Addison's Disease[edit]

Typically, a physician will go over with their patient about their medical history and signs and symptoms. If the doctor suspects that a patient may have Addison's disease, the patient may have to undergo some tests, such as:

  • Blood tests
  • ATCH stimulation test
  • Insulin-induced hypoglycemia test
  • CT scan or MRI

Signs and Tests[edit]

Tests showing the presence of Addison's disease may show:

  • Increased potassium levels
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low cortisol levels
  • Low serum sodium
  • Normal sex hormone levels


Other tests may include abdominal x-ray and abdominal CT scans.
Patients with Addison's disease may also change the results of the following tests:

  • 17-hydroxycorticosteroids
  • 17-ketosteroids
  • 24-hour urinary aldosterone excretion rate
  • ACTH
  • Aldosterone
  • Blood eosinophil count
  • CO2
  • Cortrosyn stimulation test
  • Potassium test
  • Renin
  • Urine cortisol

Treatment[edit]

A patient with Addison's disease will usually be treated with oral corticosteroids to control the symptoms of the disease. Unfortunately, the patient must take these drugs for the rest of their life. A physician may change the dosage due to infection, injuries, stress, or surgery.

If one has an extreme form of adrenal insufficiency, hydrocortisone should be injected into a patient.

References[edit]

  1. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/addisons-disease/DS00361
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001416/