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Addison's Disease: 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 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 extreme physical stress, 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. 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 advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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 advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will have to take medicines for the rest of your life.
  • Wear medical alert jewellery. This lets others know that you have Addison's disease.
  • Have a shot of emergency medicine with you at all times. Know when and how to give yourself the medicine. Have instructions written out. Teach someone else how to give you the medicine in case you can't give it to yourself.
  • Weigh yourself regularly, especially if you haven't felt like eating or you've been vomiting. Weigh yourself at the same time each day and wear the same clothes each time you weigh yourself. Let your doctor know if you're losing weight or vomiting often.
  • Keep track of your blood pressure. Let your doctor know if it's high or too low. Also let your doctor know if you have swelling or you feel light-headed. You may need to adjust your dose of medicine.
  • Work with your doctor to create a plan for what to do when you're sick or when your body is under stress. You may need to change the amount of medicine you take during this time.
  • Don't 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.

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 advice 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 advice 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

Enter Q505 in the search box to learn more about "Addison's Disease: Care Instructions".

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.