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      Underactive Adrenal Glands / Addison's Disease

      What is Addison's disease?

      Addison's disease is the result of an underactive adrenal gland. 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 this disease may occur at any age.

      What causes Addison's disease?

      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, or other diseases. Other causes may include:

      •    Use of corticosteroids as a treatment (such as prednisone) causes a slow down in production of natural corticosteroids by the adrenal glands.
      •    Certain drugs used to treat fungal infections may block production of corticosteroids in the adrenal glands.

      Treatment of Addison's disease:

      The goal of treatment is to restore the adrenal glands to normal function, producing normal levels of corticosteroid hormones. Specific treatment for Addison's disease will be determined by your physician based on:

      •    your age, overall health, and medical history
      •    extent of the disease
      •    your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
      •    expectations for the course of the disease
      •    your opinion or preference

      Since Addison's disease can be life threatening, treatment often begins with administration of corticosteroids. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, may be taken orally or intravenously, depending on the patient's condition. Usually the patient has to continue taking the corticosteroid the rest of his/her life. Treatment may also include taking fludrocortisone, a drug that helps restore the body's level of sodium and potassium.