Adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal glands do not function properly. This impacts the ability of the glands to produce hormones, including cortisol, which helps your body respond to stress; aldosterone, which affects the balance of fluid in the body; and adrenocorticotropic (ACTH), which helps to regulate cortisol.
Types of Adrenal Insufficiency
- Addison's disease, or primary adrenal insufficiency is when antibodies destroy the adrenal glands. This most commonly happens when your immune system attacks healthy adrenal glands by mistake. Other causes may include cancer or an infection.
- Secondary adrenal insufficiency is when medications cause the adrenal glands to stop producing cortisol. This is the result of either prolonged steroid use due to a health condition or issues with the pituitary gland.
- Tertiary adrenal insufficiency when the pituitary gland does not produce enough ACTH
Adrenal insufficiency is caused by your immune system attacking your healthy adrenal glands, most commonly, by mistake.
Signs You Should Get Help for Adrenal Insufficiency
Adrenal insufficiency symptoms include the following:
- Feeling tired or weak
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Patches of dark skin on the face, neck or hands
Treatment for Adrenal Insufficiency at Rush
See your primary care provider if you are experiencing these symptoms. Your provider will perform a physical exam and order blood tests. You may also need an ACTH stimulation test to see if your adrenal glands are functioning properly. If you have adrenal insufficiency, your provider will refer you to an endocrinologist — a hormone specialist.
While adrenal insufficiency cannot be cured, it can be effectively managed. Treatment involves taking corticosteroids, a drug that mimics cortisol, for the rest of your life to replace the hormones that your body is not producing.
Your endocrinologist will order tests periodically to ensure that your hormone levels are normal.
Rush Excellence in Adrenal Insufficiency Care
- Team approach: Adrenal insufficiency can be caused by an infection, cancer or injury. A dedicated team of Rush specialists can treat you for any of these problems.
- Extensive experience: Adrenal insufficiency can be life threatening if you are undergoing surgery or have an infection. Rush endocrinologists understand these risks and have extensive experience treating people with adrenal insufficiency.