Do you suffer from chronic progressive fatigue with weight loss, darkening of skin and low blood pressure? If yes, you could well be suffering from what is called Addison’s disease (also known as Adrenal insufficiency or adrenocortical hypofunction).
This condition results from insufficient production of hormones by the Adrenal glands. Adrenals are a pair of small glands situated one above each kidney and they make hormones that play a very important role in maintaining the body’s economy.
Prompt diagnosis and treatment of this condition is very essential since it can have a considerable impact on the body’s basic functions and can progress to complications if neglected. Timely Homeopathic treatment can help the patients to have good control over this condition and it can be given alongside conventional medication. At Dr. Batra's, we help our patients to tide over their disease effectively, gently and safely without any side-effects.
What is Addison’s Disease?
One out of every 100,000 people suffers from Addison’s disease! What is it? This is a condition that results from the failure of Adrenal glands to produce sufficient hormones.
These hormones (cortisol and aldosterone) have a very important role to play in maintaining good health. Their major functions are to:
- Help the body to respond to stress
- Control immune system's inflammatory response
- Normalize the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats
- Regulate blood pressure
- Adjust water and salt balance in the body
Since these functions are very vital to maintain the normal economy of the body, deficiency of these hormones has a significant impact on the health.
Addison’s disease is characterized by weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and darkening of the skin in exposed as well as non-exposed parts of the body.
This condition can occur at any age though it is more common between 30 to 50 years of age. It affects males and females equally. Addison’s disease can be life threatening and hence warrants prompt diagnosis and treatment.
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.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease
“If only one could be alert enough to notice the gradual changes in health and treat them in time”.
The symptoms of Addison’s disease are very gradual in onset and this is precisely why it goes unnoticed in majority of cases until it reaches a critical stage. The common symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Fatigue that worsens over a period of time
- Slow, sluggish movements
- Low blood pressure - this falls still further on standing up causing fainting or dizziness
- Skin changes - Unnaturally dark skin in some places (exposed as well as non-exposed areas). The darkening is more prominent on skin folds, knuckles, toes, knees, elbows and sometimes even on lips and mucus membranes. The skin appears very patchy overall.
- Loss of appetite, chronic diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Mouth lesions on the inside of cheeks
- Salt craving (which occurs due to loss of salt from the body)
- Low blood glucose levels
- Menstrual periods may become irregular or altogether stop
- Irritability and depression
On account of the gradual progress of symptoms, Addison’s disease often goes unnoticed until there is a stressful event like an accident or a severe illness. This triggers off an ‘addisonian crisis’ or acute adrenal insufficiency which is a medical emergency. The symptoms of an addisonian crisis include:
- Sudden penetrating pain in the lower back, abdomen or legs
- Severe diarrhea and vomiting
- Acute fall in blood pressure
- Difficulty in breathing
If left untreated, an addisonian crisis can prove to be fatal.
Diagnosis and Tests
“How do I know it’s Addison’s disease?”
Laboratory investigations can be used to detect whether the cortisol hormone levels are low in the blood and thereafter to determine the cause of the same.
The common tests that are done include:
- Blood tests: To measure serum Sodium, Potassium, Cortisol and ACTH levels
- ACTH Stimulation test – This test measures the rise in serum Cortisol levels after an injection of ACTH. ACTH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland and it stimulates the adrenal gland to produce its hormones.
- X-ray of abdomen – To detect calcium deposits in the adrenals
- CT scan of abdomen – This can be used to detect abnormalities of the adrenal glands.
- CT scan or MRI of Pituitary – This may be required if the patient has been diagnosed with Secondary Addison’s disease.
‘What to do, what to avoid?’
Patients with Addison’s disease have to play an active role in the management of their health and this begins with understanding their disease.
Based on their experience and expertise, the nutritionists at Dr. Batra's have charted out certain nutritional guidelines for patients with Addison's disease. These have a scientific backing as well and can go a long way in helping patients to deal with their disease:
- Increase foods that support the immune and adrenal function such as garlic, onions, mushrooms, fruits, raw vegetables, sprouts and pearl barley
- Consume oily fish at least 3 times a week or flaxseeds everyday
- Avoid processed/fatty foods, red meat
- Avoid stimulants like alcohol and caffeine
- Avoid tobacco in any form
In addition, there are certain dos and don’ts for patients which can help them maintain optimum health:
- Always carry an identification card which clearly mentions about your condition
- The card should carry the name and number of your doctor and a relative who should be contacted during an emergency
- Do not skip your medicines and see your doctor regularly
- Seek immediate medical attention during an infection, diarrhea or vomiting since these can suddenly precipitate an addisonian crisis
- Carry an injectable form of cortisol, syringe and needle while travelling for handling any emergency
- Call your doctor or emergency care immediately if you begin to develop any of the symptoms of an addisonian crisis
Addison’s Disease Homeopathic Treatment
‘This is the path to follow’
Homeopathy can offer good relief to patients with Addison’s disease. The medicines can help in stimulating the adrenal glands to improve the secretion of the hormones and thus control the disease process. They can be given along with conventional treatment and strategic combination of both can help the patients to tide over the disease.
Improvement is gradually seen on the symptomatic level wherein the patient starts experiencing relief from the symptoms and notices a general sense of well being. Skin changes take longer duration to get back to normal but improvement in energy levels, better appetite, stable blood pressure, etc. are initial changes that occur.
In contrast to conventional medication, Homeopathic medicines are non habit-forming and they help the body to improve its own functions rather than simply supplementing the hormones externally.
It must be noted however that Addison’s disease is chronic in nature and the treatment has to be continued for a long time. The treatment can help to reduce dependence on external supplementation of the hormones and the patients require lesser dosage of the same.
Lastly, proper constitutional treatment can also help to arrest the progress of this condition and this is one worthy reason to opt for homeopathic treatment as soon as the condition is diagnosed.