The human body’s endocrine system has two adrenal glands. Each of these two adrenal glands has an outer layer called the adrenal cortex. The secretion of the adrenal cortex is a mixture of about thirty compounds called steroids.
Two of these compounds are the hydrocortisone and the aldosterone. The former helps regulate protein, carbohydrate, and fat metabolism and control inflammatory and immunity reactions; the latter helps control potassium, sodium, and water distribution.
When the adrenal glands fail to make enough hydrocortisone and aldosterone, a hormonal disorder called Addison’s disease occurs. Damage to the adrenal glands results from some wasting degeneration or destructive lesion similar to that in tuberculosis.
This serious hormonal disorder – which is named after the English physician Dr. Thomas Addison – has several symptoms, including low blood pressure, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and sometimes severe weight loss; there usually is loss of water and sodium chloride from blood and tissues. But of all the various symptoms of Addison’s disease, two are easily noticeable: skin darkening and chronic fatigue.
The skin darkening condition, which is an important sign of Addison’s disease, is usually more pronounced on pressure points (the knuckles and elbows, for example) and on areas exposed to the sun. It is the usual blue-black pigmentation presented by the mucous membranes that makes the skin darkening condition in Addison’s disease evident.
The other prominent symptom – chronic fatigue – may be due mainly to the loss of sodium chloride and water from the tissues and blood. The person with Addison’s disease suffers from weakness, lethargy, and poor appetite. These symptoms occurring all at once cause the chronic fatigue in the patient, which, in some cases result to severe weight loss.
An infection, an injury, a tumor, or any other condition that damages or destroys the adrenal cortex can be the cause of occurrence of Addison’s disease in a person. Most cases of this hormonal disorder, however, are brought forth by some form of autoimmune destruction. For reasons not yet fully explained, the immune system of a person can turn against his own adrenal glands.
A person suffering from the conditions of skin darkening and chronic fatigue occurring together should consult a physician immediately. Confirming a diagnosis of Addison’s disease can be greatly helped by precise blood tests, which are aimed at evaluating the ability of the adrenal glands in secreting their hormones.
While Addison’s disease is extremely rare, immediate treatment should be done on the person diagnosed with the condition. Treatment of Addison’s disease, which must be supervised by a physician, calls for the replacement of the hydrocortisone and aldosterone hormones.