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Addison’s Disease (Primary)

Underarm showing skin darkening, which is a feature of Addison's Disease

Underarm showing skin darkening, which is a feature of Addison’s Disease

What Is Primary Addison’s Disease?

Addison’s disease is an autoimmune destruction of the adrenal glands by autoantibodies that target the adrenal cortex, or outer part of these glands, and is characterized by a slow progressive failure of the adrenal glands to adequately produce its steroid hormones.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue or failure may not develop until the majority of adrenal tissue is destroyed. When untreated, progression leads to coma, called Addisonian crisis, which is a medical emergency.

There are two adrenal glands each located on top of a kidney and enclosed in a connective tissue capsule. Each is a small, triangular shape that is made of two parts: the outer region and the inner region.

The inner region, called the adrenal medulla, produces epinephrine and norepinephrine chemicals that are needed to deal with stress.

The outer region, called the adrenal cortex, produces adrenocortical (steroid) hormones and releases them into the bloodstream in response to pituitary stimulating hormone from the brain.

Q: What is the function of steroid hormones produced by the adrenal glands?

A: Functions of the three steroid hormones produced by the adrenal glands are:

  1. Glucocorticoids restrain inflammation and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins to maintain a normal glucose blood level. The major glucocorticoid is hydrocortisone.
  2. Mineralocorticoids regulate the retention and excretion of fluids and electrolytes by the kidneys. The most important mineralocorticoid is aldosterone.
  3. Androgen (testosterone) is a male sex hormone.

Secondary adrenal insufficiency may develop from other causes that are not immune related such as chronic infections, tumor, and medications.

What Is Addison’s Disease In Celiac Disease and/or Gluten Sensitivity?


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