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Addison's Disease: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Addison's disease is a rare condition. It develops when the adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys, do not make enough of certain hormones. These hormones are important for normal body function. They help the body cope with stress, hold salt and water, and maintain blood pressure.

Addison's disease usually develops when part of the adrenal glands are destroyed by the body's defences, called the immune system, or by diseases such as tuberculosis or cancer. Some types of surgery and radiation treatments, bleeding caused by blood-thinning medicine, and injury to the gland from a blow to the back, from a motor vehicle crash, or from pregnancy or delivery also can cause the disease.

You will probably need to take medicine for the rest of your life to treat your condition and help prevent an adrenal crisis. A crisis is a steep drop in blood pressure and blood sugar levels caused by a stressful event, such as an infection, an injury, surgery, or dehydration.

Over time, if you do not get treatment, too little adrenal hormone can cause other symptoms, such as too much skin pigment. This can cause you to look tan. You also may lose weight and be extremely tired.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes. You will have to take medicines for the rest of your life.
  • Do not reduce salt in your diet. You may need to add extra salt to your food during hot and humid weather or after exercise to replace salt lost through sweating.
  • Do not use salt substitutes.
  • Carry a medical ID card or bracelet that states that you have Addison's disease.
  • Keep track of your weight, especially if you have not been hungry or you have been vomiting. Weigh yourself at the same time of day while wearing the same amount of clothing. Ask your doctor when he or she wants to be notified about weight loss or frequent vomiting.
  • Keep track of your blood pressure. High blood pressure and swelling may mean that your medicine needs to be adjusted. Also, if you notice that you become light-headed when you first get up in the morning, your blood pressure may be low. Sit on the edge of your bed for a while before standing. Let your doctor know if this problem gets worse.
  • During illness or stress, you may need to increase your dose of medicine. Talk with your doctor about when and how much you should increase your medicine. Have clear instructions written out for which medicine you should increase and how much you should increase it.
  • Have a shot of emergency medicine ready at your home, at work or school, and in the car. Know when and how to give yourself the medicine. Have instructions written out, and teach someone else how to give you the medicine in case you cannot give it to yourself.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have an adrenal crisis. Symptoms may include:
    • Severe vomiting and diarrhea.
    • Extreme weakness or feeling that you are going to pass out.
    • Sudden pain in the belly, lower back, and legs.
    • Strange behaviour, such as feeling confused or fearful.
    • Fainting or trouble staying awake.
    • A high fever.
    • A pale face and blue lips and earlobes.
  • You are not able to take your medicine by mouth.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have a cough that does not go away.
  • You have burning when you urinate.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from a wound.
    • Pus draining from a wound.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have a minor illness that does not go away.
  • You have trouble dealing with stress.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.