If you are experiencing pain in the muscles and joints, an enhanced craving for salt, symptoms of low glucose in the blood or low blood pressure, you could be suffering from adrenal insufficiency (AI). The outer layer or cortex of our adrenal gland produces three forms of steroid hormones. In adrenal insufficiency, the cortex fails to produce enough steroid hormones. Some people do not know that they have been affected with adrenal insufficiency until they experience a sudden worsening of symptoms. This is called an adrenal crisis.
The different types of adrenal insufficiencies occur because of different reasons. Primary AI is commonly caused by autoimmune diseases in which our body’s defence system destroys the body’s tissues. Bleeding in glands, genetic diseases and infections are other likely causes.
Secondary AI occurs because of problems with the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland produces a hormone named adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) because of which the adrenal glands produce cortisol. In the case of secondary AI, the pituitary glands stop sending ACTH to the adrenal glands, and cortisol is hence not produced. This may occur by taking certain prescribed medicines.
A patients’s medical symptoms and medical history are observed. The blood levels of cortisol, sodium, potassium and glucose are checked for the detection of AI. The adrenal glands and the pituitary gland are observed by imaging tests. X-rays, ultrasound, and CT and MRI scans may be required.
The treatment of adrenal insufficiency aims at ensuring proper levels of hormones in the body. You may require regular replacement of hormones for life. You have to take glucocorticoids for replacing the cortisol which your body does not provide anymore. Mineralocorticoids should be taken when the body does not produce aldosterone. Extra glucocorticoids may be required during times of intense stress such as a surgery or serious health conditions.
If you experience any symptoms of adrenal insufficiency, it is recommended that you visit a doctor immediately. Early diagnosis will enable early treatment, which is beneficial for you. If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult an Endocrinologist.