Addison's disease and diabetes

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Addison's disease is a rare autoimmune disease. Learn about the signs and treatment and why it occurs more often in people with type 1 diabetes.

Key points

  • Addison's disease is rare but tends to occur more often in people with type 1 diabetes than in the general population.
  • A blood test is used to help diagnose Addison's disease.
  • Addison's disease is treated with pills that your child will take for the rest of their life.

Addison’s disease is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys and release many different hormones (chemical messenger) into the blood. This includes cortisol and aldosterone, two hormones that help respond to body stress and work to maintain a normal blood pressure. Damage to the adrenal glands decreases cortisol and aldosterone production.

Signs and symptoms of Addison’s disease

Adrenal gland function
Location of the pituitary gland, adrenal glands, kidneys and bladder in the body labelled
The pituitary gland signals to the adrenal glands to produce hormones like cortisol and aldosterone that help our bodies with stress and illness.

Addison’s disease is rarely seen in the general population. It tends to occur more often in people with type 1 diabetes, but it is still very rare. Symptoms of Addison’s disease include:

  • frequent low blood glucose (sugar) levels
  • low insulin needs
  • severe fatigue
  • darkening of the skin
  • weight loss and decreased appetite
  • low blood pressure
  • fainting
  • salt craving
  • nausea or vomiting
  • belly pain
  • muscle or joint pain
  • mood changes
  • body hair loss.

Diagnosis of Addison’s disease

A blood test for cortisol levels is used to help diagnose Addison’s disease.

Treatment of Addison’s disease

Treatment may consist of oral medications (pills) to replace the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. Your child will have to take these medications for the rest of their life.

Last updated: November 20th 2017