Glossary On Causes of Addison's Disease

‘Low on hormones – tell me why?’

The first question that would come to the mind of a patient is ‘What has caused me to suffer from this ailment?’ The answer to this would be as follows:

The hormones Cortisol and Aldosterone are produced by the outer layer of the Adrenal gland called as the Cortex. Any kind of damage to the cortex can result in insufficient production of these hormones. Adrenal insufficiency becomes evident when at least 90% of the cortex has been destroyed.

The adrenal cortex can be damaged due to any of the following causes:

  • Dysfunction of the immune system (auto-immunity) whereby it attacks the body’s own tissues (in this case the adrenal glands). As many as 70% of cases of Addison’s disease are due to auto-immune destruction of the adrenal cortex.
  • Infections - tuberculosis, HIV, or fungal infections
  • Hemorrhage, blood loss
  • Tumors, cancer cells spreading to adrenal glad from other parts of the body
  • Use of blood-thinning drugs (anticoagulants)

Presence of any other auto-immune condition in the patient also predisposes him to develop Addison’s disease.

Primary Addison’s disease: This is due to disorder of the adrenal glands themselves (damage to the adrenal cortex)

Secondary Addison’s disease: In this case, the disorder is caused due to lack of the stimulus for the hormone secretions (which comes from the Pituitary gland). Unless there is a stimulus for the adrenal gland to secrete the hormones, the gland cannot do so by itself and this results in secondary Addison’s disease.

Addison's Disease