Addison's Disease Symptoms

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Addison’s disease has a wide range of specific and non specific symptoms. The symptoms may be mild and non-remarkable initially but may become more severe and debilitating as the disease progresses.

Some of the most common initial complaints include fatigue, muscle weakness and lack of energy. These symptoms are also seen with other conditions such as anemia, underactive thyroid function (hypothyroidism), chronic fatigue syndrome, flu or depression etc.

Initial symptoms

  • Dehydration – this is one of the early signs of Addison’s disease. This condition is seen due to lack of the hormone aldosterone that balances salt and water.
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Excessive drowsiness and lethargy
  • Weakness of muscles
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent urination leading to worsening dehydration
  • Severe thirst
  • Low blood sugar contributing to dizziness and weakness
  • Craving for salty foods as frequent urination leads to excessive salt loss from the body
  • Fall in blood pressure
  • Depressed mood and irritability

Long term symptoms

  • More severe and frequent occurrences of the initial symptoms
  • Symptoms brought about when the patient faces a stressful situation like an illness or an accident.
  • Severe lowering of blood pressure especially when the patient rises to a standing position after sitting or lying down for some time. This is called postural or orthostatic hypotension.
  • Dizziness accompanied by fainting spells
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain etc.
  • Back pain and joint pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Reduced sexual drive or libido particularly in women. Women sufferers may also miss periods completely or have irregular periods.
  • Chronic fatigue and depression along with tearfulness. Psychosis or other mental ailments are rare.
  • Pigmentation of dark discoloration of the skin. There may be pigment spots over the lips, gums, creases of the palms, pressure points, scars, knuckles and knees. There may be excessive sweating as well.

Adrenal crisis

When left untreated, Addison’s disease may lead to adrenal crisis. This is a medical emergency that may be life threatening.

During an adrenal crisis the symptoms of Addison’s disease may appear suddenly and may affect the patient severely. Some of the symptoms of adrenal crisis include:-

  • Profound dehydration
  • Sudden and severe fall in blood pressure leading to a shock like state
  • Shock that involves complete or near complete shutdown of blood flow to vital organs
  • Extreme muscle weakness
  • Severe headache
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Confusion and disorientation due to excessive loss of salt and water
  • Drowsiness and coma and even death

Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)

Sources

  1. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Addisons-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/physical_health/conditions/addisons1.shtml
  3. http://www.addisons.org.au/assoc/whatis.pdf
  4. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/addison/addisons.pdf
  5. http://www.med.unc.edu/medicine/web/addisons.pdf
  6. http://www.uspharmacist.com/CMSDocuments/2010/6/PTA1006%20Addison%20all.pdf

Further Reading

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