Addison’s disease

In Addison’s disease, the adrenal glands do not produce the hormones cortisone and aldosterone. These hormones ensure water balance in the body and help the body respond to stress.

Bronze disease

Addison’s disease is also called bronze disease. This disease is named after the English physician Thomas Addison. He lived from 1793 to 1860. In 1855 Thomas first described this disease, because Thomas was interested in dermatology. He described the change in skin pigmentation. This change occurs in what we now know as Addison’s disease.


The cause of Addison’s disease is often a tumor, an infection or tuberculosis, which destroys the function of the adrenal cortex. This causes a deficiency of adrenocortical hormone. In most cases, however, an autoimmune disease is the cause of Addison’s disease. Antibodies are then produced against the adrenal cortex, causing it to shut down. This disease can also occur in the event of a serious accident in which the adrenal glands are damaged, or when the adrenal glands are removed.


How does one know if one has Addison’s disease? The following features are typical of Addison’s disease:

  • extreme fatigue
  • weak muscles, little strength in the limbs
  • weight loss without apparent cause
  • low blood pressure with shock in cases of stress
  • change in pigmentation of the skin and mucous membranes
  • have a strong desire to eat salty food
  • the development of hyperventilation
  • dizziness or nausea that is sometimes accompanied by vomiting and lasts for a long time
  • dehydration and frequent urination

If you have several symptoms from the list above, it is advisable to see a doctor. It is possible that one has Addison’s disease, but another disease or condition can also show these symptoms. Often people with Addison’s disease respond to minor infections with a very high fever. Something that normally should not happen. Hyperpigmentation occurs in 92 percent of cases: this is a discoloration of the skin. The skin turns orange/brown and is clearly visible. Because this often occurs, it is often one of the most important characteristics to recognize this disease. In the past, this disease was almost always fatal.


Because the adrenal cortex does not produce cortisol, corticosteroids are administered. The treatment always consists of hormone treatment, so that the hormone deficiency is replenished. This treatment allows people with Addison’s disease to function reasonably well, while in the past this disease was often fatal. People with this disease often feel extremely tired, especially on days that are busier than usual. The next day they are often completely exhausted. It is important that the disease is detected in time, as without treatment it can still be fatal in the most serious cases. Medicines are therefore indispensable.

Addison’s crisis

At first the symptoms may be inconspicuous or you may have doubts, but an accident or infection can lead to an Addisonian crisis. The already low hormone level then drops very suddenly. This causes blood pressure and salt levels to drop. If an Addison’s crisis is not treated quickly, the consequences are often very serious. The symptoms of an Addis crisis are: diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, very severe pain in the legs, back and/or abdomen, muscle cramps, fainting or loss of consciousness.