Addisonian crisis: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Cortisol is a hormone that helps with a variety of bodily functions. These include maintaining blood sugar, managing the immune system, regulating blood pressure, controlling some of the electrolytes in the body, and controlling stress levels.

Cortisol levels are highest in the early morning and after meals and the lowest at night in the early sleep phases.

Low levels of cortisol can cause weakness, extreme tiredness, and drops in blood pressure. Most of the time, however, the human body is capable of balancing the amount of cortisol it produces.

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What is Addisonian crisis?

An Addisonian crisis occurs when the adrenal glands, which are located at the top of each kidney, do not produce enough cortisol. The adrenal glands may struggle to produce cortisol efficiently when the body becomes stressed as a result of certain factors or triggers.

An Addisonian crisis is a dangerous event and can be fatal if a person cannot maintain their cortisol levels. Despite being a highly treatable condition, the death rate associated with an Addisonian crisis is about 6 percent, according to one report published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

man feeling dizzy and unwell
Confusion, dizziness, and nausea are all symptoms of an Addisonian crisis.

Symptoms of an Addisonian crisis include:

  • extreme tiredness and weakness
  • dizziness and feeling faint
  • nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and stomach pain
  • fever, chills, and sweating
  • dangerously low blood pressure
  • fast heart rate
  • skin reactions, including rashes
  • loss of consciousness

Convulsions are another possible symptom of the Addisonian crisis. The body’s muscles contract and relax quickly and repeatedly, resulting in uncontrolled shaking.

People with a condition called Addison’s disease are at the highest risk of developing Addisonian crisis, especially if their condition is not managed well or has not been diagnosed.

Addison’s disease is an endocrine disorder where the adrenal glands do not produce enough of the hormones that the body needs, including cortisol and aldosterone.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Addison’s disease affects 110-144 of every 1 million people in developed countries.

The NIDDK also reported that up to 80 percent of Addison’s cases are autoimmune diseases, conditions where the body’s immune system thinks healthy tissues are diseased and attacks cells, tissues, and organs.

Other potential triggers of an Addisonian crisis are:

  • traumatic physical events, such as a car accident or injury leading to physical shock
  • surgery, especially when it involves the adrenal glands
  • pituitary gland not working properly
  • general anesthesia
  • severe allergic reactions
  • long-term steroid use or abruptly stopping steroid medications
  • pregnancy complications
  • emotional trauma

In a 2015 study, 423 people with adrenal insufficiency were asked to report on factors that triggered their adrenal crisis events.

A total of 20 percent of people…