People with Addison’s disease often appear just fine on the outside, but on the inside, it’s another story. Why?
Just above the kidneys are two hormone-producing glands called the adrenal glands, which are a crucial part of the endocrine system and are responsible for manufacturing the hormones that give “operating instructions” to every single organ and tissue in the body. When the adrenal glands are damaged, the production of these hormones can stop completely.
The interior makes adrenaline-like hormones (think “fight or flight”) and the outer layer produces corticosteroids (like cortisol). Subsets of corticosteroids include glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, and androgens. Each one is important in its own right.
- Glucocorticoids are essential in helping the body convert food fuels into energy. (Insulin plays a part here. Think of insulin as the “key” that unlocks the cell’s “door” which allows sugar, or glucose, into the cell where it’s converted into energy.)
- Mineralocorticoids maintain blood pressure and the balance of sodium and potassium.
- Androgens (male sex hormones) are produced by the adrenal glands in both men and women. They are responsible, not only for male sexual development, but also for creating a feeling of well-being.
When the adrenal glands aren’t working properly, it’s usually due to an autoimmune response. Essentially, the body attacks itself.
It can also be caused by illnesses like tuberculosis, cancer, or bleeding episodes that impact the adrenal glands.
Now you know the cold, hard facts. But what do people living with Addison’s have to say about it?
One woman in Great Britain tells a heartbreaking story of her experiences of having Addison’s disease, being unable to work, relying on steroids to get her through the day, and raising her 15-year-son who also has Addison’s. Read her story here.