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Underactive Adrenal Glands / Addison's Disease

What is Addison's disease?

Addison's disease is the result of an underactive adrenal gland. An underactive adrenal gland produces insufficient amounts of cortisol (a steroid hormone that helps to control the body's use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, suppresses inflammatory reactions in the body, and affects immune system functions) and aldolsterone (a steroid hormone that controls sodium and potassium in the blood). One in every 100,000 people have Addison's disease. Onset of the disease may occur at any age.

What causes Addison's disease?

Most of the time, the cause of the disease is unknown (idiopathic). About one-third of Addison's disease cases are caused by the actual destruction of the adrenal glands through cancer, infection, an autoimmune process, or other diseases. Other causes may include the following:

What results from inadequate corticosteroid production?

Lack of adrenal hormones may cause:

What are the symptoms of Addison's disease?

Mild Addison's disease symptoms may only be apparent when the child is under physical stress. The following are the most common symptoms of Addison's disease. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

If not treated, Addison's disease may lead to severe abdominal pain, extreme weakness, low blood pressure, kidney failure, and shock - especially when the child is experiencing physical stress. The symptoms of Addison's disease may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is Addison's disease diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for Addison's disease may include blood tests to measure corticosteroid hormone levels.

Treatment of Addison's disease:

Specific treatment for Addison's disease will be determined by your child's physician based on:

The goal of treatment is to restore the adrenal glands to normal function, producing normal levels of corticosteroid hormones. Since Addison's disease can be life threatening, treatment often begins with administration of corticosteroids. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, may be taken orally or intravenously, depending on the child's condition. Usually the child must continue taking the corticosteroids for the rest of his/her life. Treatment may also include taking a medication that helps restore the body's level of sodium and potassium.

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