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Help for Adrenal Dysfunction

by Brad McHargue
  • Overview

    Adrenal dysfunction, known more commonly as adrenal insufficiency, develops when the adrenal glands are unable to produce the correct amount of hormones. It can be a primary condition, known as Addison's disease, which has a wide variety of possible causes; and secondary, which is due to a problem with the pituitary gland. Although a potentially serious condition, it can be easily treated.
  • Causes

    Addison's disease can be caused by a variety of conditions, though according to the National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Services, approximately 80 percent of all cases of Addison's disease are due to an autoimmune disorder, which involves the immune system attacking the body. Other possible causes of Addison's disease include tuberculosis, infections, cancer and genetic defects. Secondary adrenal insufficiency develops when the pituitary gland stops producing adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), a hormone responsible for encouraging the adrenal glands' production of its primary hormone, cortisol. As a result the adrenal glands could shrink. One possible cause of secondary adrenal insufficiency is glucocorticoid hormones, which are often used to treat inflammatory disorders. Other possible causes of this include tumors, surgical removal of the pituitary gland and radiation therapy.
  • Treatment

    According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment for Addison's disease or secondary renal insufficiency is through prescription medications such as corticosteroids. These are typically used when the condition is diagnosed early. Other possible medications include prednisone, hydrocortisone or cortisone acetate. In some cases, aldosterone, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that helps regulate salt and blood pressure, is affected. When levels of aldosterone drop, this causes blood pressure and the volume of blood to drop. If this occurs, your doctor may prescribe fludrocortisone. In some cases those with adrenal insufficiency of either type can experience what is known as an addisonian crisis, which occurs when the blood sugar and blood pressure drop and the amount of potassium in the blood becomes too great. This can be fatal and should be treated as quickly as possible, typically through an intravenous injection of sugar, saline and hydrocortisone.

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