Addison's disease is a rare condition that develops when the adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, are not able to produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone.
The adrenal glands release cortisol to help the body cope with stress from illness, injury, surgery, childbirth, or other reasons. Aldosterone helps the body retain salt and maintain blood pressure. Adrenal gland failure can be caused by a problem with the body's immune system (autoimmune disease) or by infection, tumor, bleeding, or injury.
Symptoms of Addison's disease include weakness, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, darkening of the skin (called hyperpigmentation), emotional distress, and a decreased ability to tolerate cold.
People who have Addison's disease need to take medicine for the rest of their lives to replace cortisol and aldosterone. Treatment relieves symptoms and usually reverses any darkening of the skin. After proper treatment is started, most people with Addison's disease can lead healthy lives. If Addison's disease is not treated, an adrenal crisis may occur that can lead to death because of a severe drop in blood pressure.