Addison's disease (also known as chronic adrenal insufficiency, hypoadrenalism and hypocortisolism) is a rare malady wherein the adrenal glands fail to produce enough hormones. In effect, English scientist and physician Thomas Addison was the first to recognize this disease in 1855 when he was engaged with the Guy's Hospital in London.
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In those days, the primary cause of this disorder was in the form for a problem of tuberculosis (TB). In fact, till date tuberculosis continues to be a major cause for Addison's disease in developing nations of the world. Currently, HIV (AIDS) is turning out to be a new noteworthy contagious disease that results in adrenal failure among the people in the developing nations.
However, in the developed countries or nations that are comparatively affluent, destructive atrophy is mostly responsible for Addison's disease. In this case, a hyper-active immune system begins to attack the own organs of the body, for instance, the adrenals. This comprises as high as 70 per cent of the entire cases and it has a greater effect on women, compared to men. As is the case with majority of the autoimmune disorders, the precise reason for the atrophy is yet to be known.
There are a number of other causes of Addison's disease, but they occur rarely. These may include aspects like adrenal cancer, specific fungal infections as well as adrenal hemorrhage (for instance, after a car mishap).
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As aforementioned, Addison's disease is also known as hypocortisolism or adrenal deficiency. This malady may happen to people irrespective of sex and age and often it can also prove to be fatal.
It may be noted here that the adrenal glands within our body are two little glands having the shape of a pyramid and are located over the kidneys. Both adrenal glands possess inner and external stratum and each of them have different roles to perform. While the inner layer, known as the medulla, makes the hormone called adrenaline, the external stratum, known as the cortex, brings into being steroid hormones.
Generally, the cortex of the two adrenal glands is damaged in the person suffering from Addison's disease. As a result of this, the production of two steroid hormones, called aldosterone and cortisol, is hampered. Aldosterone helps to preserve the equilibrium of salt and water in our body, thereby facilitating in keeping the blood pressure in control.
On the other hand, cortisol, which is secreted when an individual is in any traumatic or tense condition, assists in maintaining the energy levels of the body, the level of blood sugar and also facilitates the metabolism of carbohydrates. The symptoms of Addison's disease occur when the adrenal glands of the patient are unable to make sufficient amounts of cortisol and aldosterone.
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Typically, an autoimmune condition is responsible for Addison's disease, wherein the immune system creates antibodies that attack the own body. This, in turn, may cause harm to the adrenal glands and eventually disturb the production of the two hormones - aldosterone and cortisol.
As aforementioned, the steroid hormone cortisol is required to help in dealing with trauma/ tension, controlling the blood pressure, balancing insulin, as well as in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. In addition, cortisol also functions in the form of a natural anti-inflammatory agent.
Similarly, the other steroid hormone aldosterone is also required to keep blood pressure in control as well as maintain the balance of water and salt in the body. Any deficiency of aldosterone lowers the blood pressure, in addition to the amount of blood which is being circulated all over the body. Deficiency of aldosterone disallows the appropriate performance of the kidneys further.
Findings of studies undertaken on the subject show that people having definite genes are more susceptible to develop Addison's disease, particularly individuals who have a different autoimmune condition from before, for instance, diabetes. The other possible reasons for developing this disorder may include medical conditions that may possibly harm the adrenal glands, for instance, tuberculosis (TB).
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The symptoms of Addison's disease generally occur at a sluggish pace, in most cases over many months. The most common symptoms of this disorder may include nausea, vomiting and/ or nausea, muscle debility and exhaustion, craving for salt, low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), weight loss and lack of appetite, complexion becoming darker (hyper pigmentation) and muscle as well as joint pains. In addition, people enduring Addison's disease may also experience depression and tetchiness.
In some cases, the symptoms and signs of Addison's disease may occur all of a sudden. In the instance of severe adrenal failure (addisonian crisis), the patients may experience certain symptoms and signs, such as low blood pressure, high levels of potassium (hyperkalemia), pain in the lower back or lumber region, legs and the abdominal region, acute vomiting and diarrhea resulting in dehydration, and loss of perception.
Addison's disease may also occur owing to removal of adrenal glands surgically in some people. In the case of other patients, any of the conditions mentioned here along with destruction of the adrenal glands may be the cause for developing this disorder.
These conditions may include tuberculosis, HIV, chronic infection, genetics, cancer, severe distress, radiation therapies, pregnancy and/ or childbirth, and particular medications like blood thinners. However, it may be noted that some of the conditions mentioned here, especially pregnancy and childbirth, are rarely responsible for the development of Addison's disease.
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As Addison's disease is caused due to deficiency or lack of typical hormones, it is possible to treat this disorder by restoring those hormones. Replacement of hormones can be done by taking one or two tablets of a steroid hormone called hydrocortisone everyday. If required, it is possible to restore the steroid hormone aldosterone with a man-made (synthetic) form of the hormone called Florinef (fludrocortisone acetate) taken orally once daily.
When the patients undergo any surgery or stress or are infected or sustain any injury, the amount of these medications needs to be augmented.
It is inspiring to learn that treatment of Addison's disease is totally successful roughly all the times. Once the patients are treated, people who endured Addison's disease are once again able to lead a full and usual life.
However, it is essential for such people to always wear a bracelet and carry a card in the form of a medical alert saying that they had been affected by the malady. In addition, they ought to always keep a small provision of medications when they are outdoors, at work or in school. It is important to note that if they miss even a single dose of their medication, it may prove to be dangerous.
Patients who are assumed to have developed Addison's disease should immediately be administered the injections of salt, fluids and glucocorticoid hormones prescribed by the physician.
In addition to restoring the steroid hormones by means of injecting synthetic products, herbs and supplements are also effective in treating Addison's disease. In effect, there are numerous mild herbal medications, which are beneficial for people enduring Addison's disease.
For instance, you may perk up the energy levels of the patient using licorice, which encloses a substance known as glycyrrhizin. In effect, glycyrrhizin is a natural compound that is akin to corticosteroids made by the adrenal glands in our body. This compound helps in activating the adrenal glands and supplies energy to people enduring Addison's disease.
You may also use Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosis) or American ginseng (Panax quiqunifolia) to promote your glandular system. These two varieties of ginseng are among the most well known herbal adaptogens (any substance used in herbal medicine to regularize and control the systems of the body), which help to turn on the adrenal glands. While physicians recommend using American ginseng as an herbal remedy for Addison's disease, Siberian ginseng too facilitates in perking up energy as well as blood circulation.
In addition, huang qi (astragalus) may be used to keep the blood sugar levels in control. In effect, this herb has repute for normalizing the blood sugar levels as well as blood pressure by means of its favourable impact on the functioning of the adrenal glands. Even contemporary physicians also acknowledge the health benefits offered by huang qi.
Addison's disease may also be cured with another herb called gentian. Gentian helps to enhance the absorption of hormones produced by the adrenal glands by the different organs of our body, for instance, the kidneys and the digestive tract.
As far as treating the symptoms of Addison's disease are concerned, ginger is also a very valuable herb. Ginger has the aptitude to encourage the digestive process. It is possible that you may possibly wish to talk to a homeopath or an herbalist for this purpose. Similarly, chamomile is also a wonderful herbal remedy for diminishing stress and trauma, two main factors related to Addison's disease.
Another herbal remedy that helps in overcoming vomiting or nausea is chewing ginger or fennel seeds. It may be noted that both vomiting and nausea are related to Addison's disease. Likewise, drinking coconut water is also a wonderful natural therapy for curing this disorder, since it aids in maintaining the balance of water in the body and keeping it hydrated.
Use a mixture of different herbs, such as Eleutherococcus senticosis (commonly known as Siberian ginseng), Borago officinalis (popularly called borage) and huang qi (botanical name Astragalus membranaceous) to support the performance of the adrenal glands and facilitates in aiding the body to combat the stress and trauma of contemporary life.
Here is a word of caution. Although the above mentioned herbs are common natural remedies for Addison's disease, it is important that you seek the advice of a professional medical practitioner and, at the same time, observe the assortment of functions of the body with a view to prevent any side effects or severe consequences.
Apart from employing allopathic medications and herbs and supplements, there are a number of other things that you may do to treat Addison's disease. For instance, as in the case of most other ailments and health problems, this malady can also be treated and prevented by taking a balanced diet.
Fresh vegetables and fruits are highly vital for the efficient and effortless performance of the different organs of the body. In addition, people having Addison's disease ought to augment the consumption of foods that sustain the immune system as well as the functioning of the adrenal glands. Such foods include mushrooms, garlic, sprouts, onions and pearl barley. It is also essential for the patients to eat oily fish no less than thrice every week. Alternately, they may also consume flaxseeds daily.
It is important to remember that as consumption of healthy food is totally essential, it is similarly imperative to keep off bad or unhealthy food, such as spicy foods, fatty substances, drinking alcohol or smoke tobacco. In addition, people having Addison's disease should also stay away from red meat and processed foods.
In the same way, including sufficient amounts of vitamin C in the patient's diet will make certain that their immune system is healthy. Nevertheless, the most vital element that will facilitate in the appropriate performance of the adrenal glands is vitamin B - which is indispensible in the diet of people suffering from Addison's disease.
Before concluding, it is advisable that apart from what have been discussed in this article so far, people suffering from Addison's disease may also undertake other matching therapies, such as meditation, acupuncture, Yoga and Tai Chi.