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What You Need To Know About Adrenal Insufficiency


What You Need To Know About Adrenal Insufficiency

Adrenal insufficiency is a condition resulting from insufficient hormone production by the adrenal glands, which are located on top of each kidney. Typically, these glands produce three types of hormones (glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, and androgens), and when they fail to do so, the result is adrenal insufficiency. Although it is very difficult to detect and diagnose this condition early, once it is diagnosed, adrenal insufficiency is a highly treatable, yet lifelong, disease that typically does not negatively impact activity level or life expectancy if treated properly.

There are three main types of adrenal insufficiency:

  • Primary adrenal insufficiency, also called Addison’s disease
  • Secondary adrenal insufficiency
  • Tertiary adrenal insufficiency

Addison’s disease is extremely rare with an estimated occurrence of only 35 to 120 in every one million people. Addison’s causes, “fatigue, generalized weakness, loss of appetite and weight loss.” It may also cause a darkening of the skin in some areas, digestive problems, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, joint and muscle pain, salt cravings, and in women, “decreased hair in the armpits and pubic area, and decreased sexual desire.”

Secondary and tertiary adrenal insufficiency are similar, but there is no darkening of the skin, fewer people report gastrointestinal distress, and more people report hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, which can cause, “sweating, anxiety, shaking, nausea, or heat palpitations.” For all three forms of adrenal insufficiency, hormone replacement is the standard treatment.

People with adrenal insufficiency can experience adrenal crisis,  a life-threatening emergency. If you are with someone who has adrenal insufficiency when s/he experiences an adrenal crisis (or if you experience it yourself and are alone):

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Use an injection of glucocorticoid
  • Tell first responders what you have given and why 

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and ER doctors, once they know that they’re seeing an adrenal crisis due to adrenal insufficiency, will know to provide:

  • An IV of saline (salt) solution
  • Further injection(s) of glucocorticoid
  • Possible mineralocorticoid treatment

By wearing a medical ID bracelet or other form of medical ID jewelry, people with adrenal insufficiency and Addison’s disease can help ensure that they receive faster, more appropriate treatment in an emergency, as EMTs and ER personnel will not have to search for a cause and diagnosis, but instead can immediately begin confidently treating your adrenal crisis.

Source: http://bit.ly/LP8CG4


Thank you for writing about this disorder/disease. Until I was diagnosed with this in March of 2012, I had never even heard of it. I didn't know what it was, how it would affect me, what it was doing to my body, what the treatment(s) was (were) and/or how treatment would affect me. I think, although it is a relatively rare disorder, it is important for people to be aware of what it is. You never know when your friend or loved one may just find out that they have something like this going on.
Posted @ Monday, February 04, 2013 11:28 AM by Rene
So glad you posted this! I'd never heard of this before I was diagnosed this past June. It is very rare and 6 doctors missed it (2 endocrinologists, OB/GYN, primary care dr, and 2 er drs). It was a miserable 7 months until I was diagnosed but with one injection of corticosteroids, I was back to normal! Thanks a bunch for increasing awareness!
Posted @ Monday, February 04, 2013 12:06 PM by Callie
Rene and Callie, we're happy that you found this article to be helpful and informative!
Posted @ Monday, February 04, 2013 12:13 PM by Jenna White
Thanks for the post. I, too, had never heard of adrenal insufficiency until diagnosed in December 2012. I am ordering my first medical alert jewelry. How do I know the appropriate verbiage to put on the bracelet?
Posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:19 PM by Kelli
Kelli, we're so happy to hear that you found this article helpful! We recommend that you speak with your doctor to see what their recommendation is as to what you engrave, but typically you would list your first and last name, adrenal insufficiency, any medications, allergies to food or drugs and an emergency contact number. If you still need assistance, give us a call during business hours at 1-800-360-8680.
Posted @ Monday, February 11, 2013 9:57 PM by Jenna White
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