What are the symptoms of Addison’s disease and an adrenal crisis?

What are the symptoms of Addison’s disease and an adrenal crisis?

The symptoms of Addison’s disease will typically develop gradually over a number of months. The signs and symptoms of the condition may include:

When to see a doctor if you think you may have Addison's disease

It is advised that you make an appointment to see your doctor if you have any of the above-listed signs that are associated with Addison’s disease. The most prominent of these signs usually include:

  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Weight loss that is unintentional
  • Severe fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal issues such as abdominal pain, vomiting and nausea
  • Fainting or lightheadedness
  • Joint or muscle pains
  • Salt cravings

Symptoms of addisonian crisis (Acute adrenal failure / acute adrenal insufficiency)

Due to the symptoms of Addison’s disease progressing slowly, the signs often go unnoticed until a stressful event such as surgery, accident (i.e. a car accident) or other illness occurs, causing the symptoms to rapidly progress.

When this occurs, it is known as an acute adrenal crisis or Addisonian crisis (as previously mentioned). This is often the first sign of Addison’s disease in one in four patients with the condition and the first realisation that they have the disease.

An acute adrenal crisis can be a fatal condition and is therefore considered a medical emergency warranting immediate medical attention and care.

The symptoms and signs of an Addisonian crisis may include:

  • Dehydration from severe vomiting
  • Confusion leading to loss of consciousness or coma
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Flank or abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • High fever
  • Fatigue accompanied by severe weakness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Slow and sluggish movement
  • Excessive and unusual sweating on palms or face
  • Rapid breathing (increased respiratory rate)
  • Organ failure (including the kidneys if blood is not able to be restored quickly)
  • Hyponatremia (low sodium) or hyperkalaemia (high potassium)
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