Addison’s disease (also called primary hypoadrenocorticism) is a condition caused by the deficiency of hormones made by the adrenal gland. The adrenal glands (there are two, one in front of each kidney) makes several important hormones. With Addison’s disease, clinical signs occur due to the inability of the adrenal gland to make adequate amounts of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone.
Cortisol and aldosterone are critical to maintaining normal body functions. Cortisol helps to combat stress, ameliorate inflammation, and make available energy stores to the body by encouraging the break down of muscle and fat. Aldosterone helps the body reabsorb sodium (a very important electrolyte) and water (thus maintaining normal fluid balance). Aldosterone also helps the body excrete excess potassium (another important electrolyte). With a deficiency in aldosterone the body becomes sodium and water deficient (life threatening dehydration may occur) and hyperkalemia develops (elevated potassium levels in the blood). Hyperkalemia may cause slowing of the heart rate and the development of cardiac arrhythmias.
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