Addison's disease occurs when the adrenal glands are not able to produce an adequate amount of steroid hormones. An underactive adrenal gland produces insufficient amounts of cortisol (a steroid hormone that helps to control the body's use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, suppresses inflammatory reactions in the body, and affects immune system functions) and aldosterone (a steroid hormone that controls sodium and potassium in the blood). Addison's disease is considered rare. Onset of the disease may occur at any age.
Destruction of the adrenal gland due to an auto-immune response is the most common cause of the disease. Some Addison's disease cases are caused by the actual destruction of the adrenal glands through cancer, infection, an autoimmune process, or other diseases. Other causes may include the following:
Lack of adrenal hormones may cause:
Mild Addison's disease symptoms may only be apparent when the child is under physical stress. The following are the most common symptoms of Addison's disease. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
If not treated, Addison's disease may lead to severe abdominal pain, extreme weakness, low blood pressure, kidney failure, and shock--especially when the child is experiencing physical stress. The symptoms of Addison's disease may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for Addison's disease may include blood tests to measure corticosteroid hormone and potassium levels.
Specific treatment for Addison's disease will be determined by your child's doctor based on:
The goal of treatment is to replace the deficient hormones and relieve the symptoms of hormone deficiency. Since Addison's disease can be life-threatening, treatment often begins with administration of corticosteroids. Corticosteroids, such as cortisol, may be taken orally or intravenously, depending on the child's condition. Usually the child must continue taking the corticosteroids for the rest of his/her life. Treatment may also include taking a medication that helps restore the body's level of sodium and potassium.
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