Hormonal disruptions experienced by people with Addison disease can cause many health concerns and may shorten lifespan. Effective treatment can improve your outlook.

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Addison disease (or Addison’s disease) is a condition caused by problems with your adrenal glands.

The adrenal glands make key hormones like cortisol and aldosterone, and damage to your adrenal glands that alters these hormone levels can cause a wide range of symptoms. It’s possible that some of these symptoms and their complications may shorten your life span.

This article will review what effect Addison disease has on the body, and how the problems that arise from this disease can reduce your overall life expectancy.

Read on for more information about Addison disease.

Primary adrenal insufficiency leads to lower-than-average aldosterone and cortisol levels. These hormones are important for your body’s day-to-day functions.

Low levels of these hormones can cause noticeable symptoms like fatigue, low blood pressure, and mood swings, but they can also lead to more severe complications.

Symptoms of Addison disease usually develop slowly over time, but in some cases, it can appear as a sudden and severe lack of adrenal hormones, causing an adrenal crisis. During an adrenal crisis, you may experience other health conditions like:

  • low blood pressure
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • change in consciousness or mental activity
  • electrolyte imbalances that can affect your heart function

Immediate treatment is needed to correct the symptoms caused by an adrenal crisis. Adrenal crisis is usually diagnosed in the emergency department and may require treatment in an intensive care unit.

Researchers estimate that about 8% of people with adrenal insufficiency experience an adrenal crisis each year, and between 0.5 and 2% of people who have an adrenal crisis die from this acute complication.

Beyond an adrenal crisis, Addison disease can also shorten your lifespan by damaging your immune system and other basic systems in the body.

Some of the long-term issues in Addison disease that can potentially shorten your lifespan include:

  • complications of long-term steroid use
  • reduce immune system function
  • increased risk of infection

With appropriate management and avoidance of adrenal crisis, many people with Addison disease can live a long life, without a significantly shorter lifespan.

Addison disease is primary adrenal insufficiency. Another related condition, secondary adrenal insufficiency, is a separate condition.

Secondary adrenal insufficiency starts in the pituitary gland as the result of lower-than-average levels of ACTH, or adrenocorticotropic hormone, which is the hormone that triggers cortisol. Without adequate ACTH, your adrenal glands won’t make enough cortisol.

A lack of cortisol can cause many symptoms and complications. While many of these are not life threatening, over time and alongside other chronic health conditions, problems with blood glucose and blood pressure control caused by low cortisol levels could have some impact on your overall lifespan.

Addison disease and other forms of adrenal insufficiency are usually treated with steroids, a type of hormone replacement therapy.

The steroid hydrocortisone may be prescribed to help offset low levels of cortisol.

Fludrocortisone is the medication usually given to help supplement aldosterone levels.

Every medication has side effects, but treatment with steroids may cause chronic conditions like reduced immune function, elevated glucose levels, and steroid-induced diabetes that have the potential to shorten your lifespan.

Similarly, long-term hormone replacement therapies carry risks since many adrenal hormones are replaced using different steroid medications.

If you’re in a state of adrenal crisis, you may be treated with higher-than-usual amounts of steroids, often referred to as “stress dose” steroids. Once you’ve overcome the most serious phase of your illness, dosages of these medications could return to your regular levels.

If you take steroid medications to treat Addison disease or other chronic conditions, talk with your healthcare professional about steps you can take to try and avoid infections and other chronic diseases like diabetes that could decrease your life expectancy.

Most people with Addison disease can lead a full life, without significant reduction to their lifespan.

This outlook, however, depends on proper treatment, following your treatment regimen carefully, and avoiding adrenal crisis events. You will also need to manage the side effects of treatments like steroid medications. This might include treating complications like diabetes or high blood sugar levels to avoid kidney damage.

Some older research shows that people who do experience complications or have severe adrenal insufficiency may lose between 3 and 11 years of life. Shorter lifespans were most common among people with adrenal insufficiency who experienced problems like infection or adrenal crisis, or who had congenital forms of Addison disease that started in childhood.

How long can you live with Addison disease?

People with Addison disease can live a full and active life with effective treatment. Working with your healthcare professional to find a treatment plan that helps your condition and any associated side effects is key.

What factors in Addison disease decrease your lifespan?

Infections and other complications related to different treatments used for Addison disease can lead to problems that shorten your lifespan. The biggest threat to your well-being, though, is an adrenal crisis. Managing stress and keeping up with treatments to support your renal function can help.

How long does it take for Addison disease to progress?

For most people, Addison disease develops slowly over time. However, certain injuries, infections, or rapid drops in hormone levels during an adrenal crisis can lead to sudden and potentially fatal exacerbations.

Addison disease, a form of chronic deficiency in certain hormones, is usually caused by injury to your adrenal glands. Symptoms of this condition generally develop slowly over time, but in some cases, potentially fatal complications can arise quickly.

Infections, adrenal crisis, and other acute issues in Addison disease can lead to death or, at the very least, cause complications that can shorten your lifespan.

Talk with your healthcare professional if you experience symptoms of adrenal insufficiency — especially if those symptoms come on or get worse suddenly.