Addison’s disease


Addison’s disease, first described in 1849 by Dr T Addison, is a rare condition which is due to the destruction of the adrenal cortex leading to a deficiency or absence of cortisol and other adrenal hormones. The symptoms are due to the failure of the production of cortical hormones, which are responsible for the rate at which sugar is made available to the tissues of the body, and the amount of salt lost from the body.


Medical text written August 2010 by Dr R Stanhope, Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist, The Portland Hospital, London, UK.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of chronic adrenal failure have a very gradual onset, so that the condition is difficult to appreciate. Lack of energy, malaise (a feeling of general discomfort or uneasiness), or giddiness when standing up, are almost always present. There is usually an increase in skin pigmentation. Often, the development of an intercurrent illness decompensates the condition which suddenly deteriorates into circulatory collapse, hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) and, if untreated, death.

What are the causes?

The deficiency may have a number of causes, such as auto-immunity, tuberculosis, or it may be spontaneous.

How is it treated?

The condition, once diagnosed, can be successfully treated with replacement hormones. Extra steroid hormones will be necessary to cover periods of intercurrent illnesses and surgical stress.

Inheritance patterns and prenatal diagnosis

Inheritance patterns
The condition may occasionally be genetic, for example, there is an X-linked form of the disease, which is related to adrenoleukodystrophy.

Prenatal diagnosis

Is there support?

Addison’s Disease Self Help Group (ADSHG)


The Group is a Registered Charity in England and Wales No. 1106791.  It is a UK support group for men, women and children diagnosed with Addison’s Disease (or adrenal insufficiency). The Group offers a quarterly newsletter, e-forum, annual medical lecture, regional seminars, social meetings and patient information materials.

Group details last updated July 2015.

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