Addison’s Disease | Causes & Risk Factors

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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 adrenal gland is damaged and can’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 one or more of your body's tissues and/or organs.

Other causes of primary adrenal insufficiency include:

  • Tuberculosis (or 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, a problem with your pituitary gland can cause secondary Addison’s disease. Or, you may develop Addison’s disease if you suddenly stop taking a corticosteroid medicine (such as prednisone). Corticosteroids are sometimes prescribed for treatment of conditions such as asthma, allergies, arthritis, cancer, and immune system problems.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 03/14
Created: 09/07

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