Addison’s disease, is a condition of the adrenal glands that occurs when they do not produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. It is considered an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks your own organs or tissues, but it is not generally life threatening, although a related form of Addison’s disease called Addisonian Crisis can be.
Hyperpigmentation, which is a darkening of the skin, generally seen as normal aging or liver spots, is a symptom of Addison’s disease, so the two conditions are tied together.
What Is Addison’s Disease?
As mentioned, Addison’s disease is an autoimmune disease caused by the body’s immune system attacking your own tissue. But unlike other autoimmune diseases, like Lupus, which attack the skin, Addison’s disease attacks the adrenal glands. These adrenal glands, which sit atop your kidneys, play an important role in regulating your hormone system. And when you have Addison’s, the adrenal glands stop functioning properly and don’t produce a hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol is a stress hormone, helping the body process the effects of stress. Cortisol helps process proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. And it helps your body regulate inflammation. Finally, stress hormones help your kidneys regulate the amount of fluids and salts in your body.
But because Addison’s interferes with the production of stress hormones, it can lead to symptoms like:
- Decreased appetite.
- Low blood Pressure
- Salt Craving
- Pain in the abdomen.
- Muscle and joint pain.
Addison’s often develops slowly and it’s often years before the symptoms become truly noticeable. And while the gradual form of the condition reveals itself long before anything life-threatening develops, people can have a sudden onset of the condition with a experience called an Addisonian crisis. This situation can occur after something like a car accident if your body suddenly stops all production of adrenaline or cortisol.
An Addisonian Crisis requires immediate medical treatment, usually in the form of cortisol injections. In contrast, people with standard Addison’s disease often notice something is wrong by the early onset of hyperpigmentation.
Addison’s Disease And Hyperpigmentation
Addison’s can lead to the skin darkening spontaneously. This condition is caused by the disease stimulating the pigment producing cells in the skin. These cells then begin producing more of a compound called melanin, which is the same compound that causes your skin to tan when in the sun, that causes the skin to develop dark patches.
The patches usually occur on the areas of the body that are most frequently exposed to the sun like the elbows, forearms, hands and face. But they can also affect the gums, which results in noticeably dark skin around the teeth. And it can develop inside the nail beds or vaginal lips.
Hyperpigmentation is often one of the first signs that someone is suffering from Addison’s disease. And it’s usually one of the first things a doctor will look for when trying to make a diagnosis of Addison’s.
How Can You Treat It
To diagnosis Addison’s, doctors look for signs like skin-darkening, a lower level of body hair caused by a lack of androgen hormones, and evidence of skin conditions like dryness.
There are a few different things that doctors do to treat the condition. The first step is replacement hormone therapy to make up for the fact that your adrenal glands aren’t producing the right amounts of cortisol. Usually, this treatment simply involves regular injections of these hormones.
In addition, many forms of treatment aim to limit the inflammation that is common with any autoimmune condition. Corticosteroids are a type of hormone that your body produces naturally in response to inflammation. But doctors can also prescribe synthetic forms of corticosteroid to help your body’s natural response.
But doctors often prescribe basic, over-the-counter NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin and ibuprofen. These drugs help treat inflammation by blocking the production of a specific enzyme that leads to inflammation.
Finally, doctors can prescribe an immunosuppressant drug. Immunosuppressants work by weakening the activity of the immune system. This means that the immune system produces fewer of the antibodies that attack your tissue and cause inflammation.
The good news is that Addison’s is very treatable. And with regular treatment, hyperpigmentation usually goes away within a few months. So, let us know. Do you have Addison’s? Did you experience changes in your skin? What did you do to treat it? Let us know in the comments.