- What is Addison’s disease?
- What is an (acute) adrenal crisis / acute adrenal insufficiency (AAI)?
- What are the symptoms of Addison’s disease and an adrenal crisis?
- What causes Addison’s disease?
- What are the risk factors for cases of autoimmune disorders leading to Addison’s disease?
- What are the main adrenal hormones and why are they important?
- How is Addison’s disease and an acute adrenal crisis diagnosed?
- How is Addison’s disease treated?
- Living with adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease)
- What to do during an adrenal crisis
- FAQ about Addison’s disease
What are the main adrenal hormones and why are they important?
Cortisol is the most vital glucocorticoid hormone (class of corticosteroids) that is produced by the adrenal glands. Practically every single tissue and organ makes use of this hormone. Cortisol also helps the body to respond to stress and maintains the blood and heart vessel functioning, in addition, it aids in controlling blood pressure. On top of all of this, cortisol also regulates your metabolism with regard to how your body uses food and slows down the inflammatory response of the immune system to protect you against viruses, bacteria and other harmful pathogens in your body
Cortisol levels increase mainly during higher stress periods which dampens the natural inflammatory response of the immune system, making the body vulnerable to harmful pathogens. Cortisol does not protect against pathogens but rather blocks the manifestation of the infective processes. Therefore, during a stressful situation, you may find that you become sick only after the stressor has been removed, this is because cortisol levels are lower after the removal of the pathogen. When cortisol levels have decreased, the body’s immune system manifests the inflammatory response associated with an illness and the body then starts fighting the pathogen.
Ultimately, cortisol is governed by your pituitary and hypothalamus glands. The hypothalamus will send CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) to your pituitary gland. From here, the pituitary gland will send out ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) to your adrenal glands which will stimulate the production of cortisol. When your cortisol levels have reached their required levels, a message will then be sent back to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands to decrease the production of hormones.
Your cortisol levels are at their highest early in the morning at roughly 08:00, they are at their lowest in the evening and when you are sleeping at roughly 04:00 in the morning. Low levels of cortisol results in fatigue, weakness, low blood pressure and a number of other health issues. If you are healthy, your body is able to balance and maintain its cortisol levels.
Aldosterone belongs to the class of hormones known as mineralocorticoids, these hormones are a family of steroid hormones that aid in balancing water and salt intake by the body. Aldosterone is also made by the adrenal glands and aids in controlling blood pressure as well as potassium and sodium levels. If aldosterone levels are low, then your body may retain more potassium than is needed or lose a large amount of sodium.
Sodium that is found in the blood will affect blood pressure and blood volume. If there is too little present then this can result in a condition known as hyponatremia, this tends to cause symptoms of fatigue and confusion as well as muscle twitches.
If the levels of potassium are too high, this may cause a condition known as hyperkalaemia. This does not normally result in any symptoms, but some people with this condition may experience nausea, a weak pulse and an irregular heartbeat.
DHEA is also produced by the adrenal glands. This kind of hormone makes the sex hormones for men and women, androgen being the male sex hormone and oestrogen being the female counterpart. The testes produce testosterone in men and the ovaries produce oestrogen in women. When the adrenal glands are damaged and produce inadequate amounts of DHEA, then the sex hormones are affected.