|What is Addison's disease?
By: Sarah J. Baker Wednesday, 04. December 2002
Addison’s disease is a rare, chronic condition brought about by the failure of the adrenal glands. Lifelong, continuous treatment with steroid replacement therapy is required. With the right balance of daily medication, most people with the disease are able to continue life much as it was before their illness.
The adrenal glands sit at the top of the kidneys, one on each side of the body and have an inner core (known as the medulla) surrounded by the outer shell (known as the cortex). The inner medulla produces adrenaline, the “fight or flight” stress hormone. While the absence of the adrenal medulla does not cause disease, the cortex is more critical. It produces the steroid hormones that are essential for life: cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol mobilises nutrients, it enables the body to fight inflammation, it stimulates the liver to produce blood sugar and it also helps control the amount of water in the body. Aldosterone regulates salt and water levels which affect blood volume and blood pressure. The adrenal cortex also produces sex hormones known as adrenal androgens; the most important of these is DHEA.
The normal adrenal cortex has an enormous functional reserve. This is called upon by the body especially in times of intense stress, such as surgery, trauma or serious infection. One of the most significant consequences of Addison’s disease is, therefore, the body’s failure to adapt to such stresses and, in the absence of adequate steroid cover, this may result in a state of shock, known as an Addisonian crisis, which is a medical emergency.
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