One of the most notable people diagnosed with Addisons Disease was our 35th President, John F Kennedy. Although it was not officially diagnosed until 1947 when he was 30 years old, symptoms first appeared as stomach pain in 1930 at age 13. By 1934 he was sent to the Mayo Clinic where they diagnosed colitis or it was called colitis. By 1940 his back started hurting him, by 1944 he had his first back operation.
Addisons Disease, also known as chronic primary adrenocortical insufficiency, is caused by a lower than normal production of hormones, such as cortisol, by the adrenal glands. It is characterized by a number of relatively non-specific symptoms, such as abdominal pain and weakness, and can progress to a very serious illness that includes very low blood pressure and coma. Addisons Disease is typically diagnosed by blood tests and medical imaging.
Symptoms of Addisons Disease can be:
- Chronic fatigue and muscle weakness
- Loss of appetite, inability to digest food, and weight loss
- Low blood pressure (hypotension) that falls further when standing. This makes a person dizzy, sometimes to the point of fainting
- Blotchy, dark tanning and freckling of the skin. This is most noticeable on parts of the body exposed to the sun, but also occurs in unexposed areas like the gums. Darkened skin is particularly likely to occur on the forehead, knees, and elbows or along scars, skin folds, and creases (such as on the palms)
- Blood sugar abnormalities, including dangerously low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Inability to cope with stress
- Moodiness, irritability, and depression
- Intolerance to heat or cold
- Craving of salty foods
Treatment for Addisons disease involves replacing the missing cortisol with tablets to mimic the bodies normal production of cortisol. Treatment normally needs to be continued for life.
Addison’s disease is named after Dr. Thomas Addison, a British physician, who first described the condition in 1849.