What causes Addison’s disease?
Addison’s disease is also called “adrenal insufficiency.” There are 2 types of adrenal insufficiency:
Primary adrenal insufficiency
Primary adrenal insufficiency occurs when the outer layer of the adrenal gland (the part that produces corticosteroids) is damaged and doesn’t produce enough hormones. This damage is usually caused by an autoimmune disease. Normally, your immune system produces antibodies to help protect the body against viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances. An autoimmune disease is when your immune system produces antibodies that attack your body's adrenal glands, or other tissues and/or organs.
Other causes of adrenal gland failure include:
- Other infections of the adrenal glands
- Cancer of the adrenal glands
- Bleeding into the adrenal glands
Secondary adrenal insufficiency
Secondary adrenal insufficiency occurs when you have another condition that causes the adrenal gland to fail to produce enough hormones. For example, secondary insufficiency can be caused by a diseased pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a gland in your brain that makes a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce their hormones. If the pituitary gland is unable to produce enough ACTH, the adrenal glands will not produce enough of their hormones either.
You can also develop temporary secondary adrenal insufficiency if you suddenly stop taking a corticosteroid medicine (such as prednisone). Corticosteroids are prescribed for treatment of conditions such as asthma and arthritis.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff