Adrenal glands represent the two small, triangular glands located just above the kidneys. They are responsible for the production of the hormone, cortisol. This hormone is needed by the body to maintain optimum blood sugar level, in order to cope up with physical stress. Basically, the adrenal glands help make the blood go more towards the brain and the muscles in an emergency situation, speeding reflex actions, thus enabling the body to fight stress. In adrenal insufficiency, the adrenal glands do not produce adequate amounts of steroid hormones. It affects adults more than children, though it is not uncommon in children. In medical terms, the insufficiency is referred to as “hypocortisolism”. Let us know more about the medical condition.
Causes Of Adrenal Insufficiency
- Autoimmune (may be part of a polyglandular autoimmune disorder that can include type I Diabetes Mellitus and autoimmune thyroid disease)
- Discontinuing corticosteroid therapy, without tapering the dosage (severe adrenal suppression with ACTH suppression)
- Illness or any other forms of stress (this is termed critical illness–related corticosteroid insufficiency)
- Kidney injury
- Environmental factors
- Genetics factors
- Head injury
- Infections (like miliary tuberculosis or meningitis affecting the adrenal glands)
- Congenital hypopituitarism
- Congential hypoadrenalism
Symptoms Of Adrenal Insufficiency
Though symptoms vary from person to person, we have listed the common symptoms that are found in those suffering from adrenal insufficiency, in the lines below.
- Apathy or Depression
- Decreased Tolerance to Cold
- Joint Aches and Pains
- Low Blood Pressure
- Low Blood Sugar Level (Hypoglycemia)
- Low Levels of Gastric Hydrochloric Acid
- Low Self-Esteem Due to Low Energy Output
- Low Stamina
- Lowered Resistance to Infection
- Muscle Weakness
- Need for Excessive Amounts of Sleep
- Poor Circulation
- Subnormal Body Temperature
Diagnosis Of Adrenal Insufficiency
If adrenal insufficiency has reached the crisis stage, ACTH stimulation test might be given. If not, then the person's blood sample would be taken for checking cortisol, ACTH, aldosterone, renin, potassium and sodium. Based on the reports, a decision would be taken, as to whether ACTH stimulation test needs to be performed or not. Along with this, X-rays or CT of the adrenals may also be done. Till date, measurement of 21-hydroxylase autoantibodies has proved to be the best test for adrenal insufficiency of autoimmune origin.
Adrenal Insufficiency In Children
In case of infants suffering from adrenal insufficiency, you will most probably notice symptoms like weakness and falling ill too often. They might suffer from feeding problems as well. As for the older children, they would exhibit symptoms like muscle pains, tummy aches, decreased appetite, and weight loss. It is advisable to consult a doctor immediately. He might suggest you to go for blood and urine tests and genetic screening, apart from computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and stomach ultrasound. In case the medical condition is diagnosed, the treatments will include intravenous (IV) therapy, steroid medicines, and hormone replacement therapy.