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Childhood Adrenal Gland Disorders: Underactivity


Adrenal gland disorders are due to either underactive or overactive adrenal glands. Also, adrenal gland disorders vary according to the actual hormones involved.
First we will look at the case of underactive adrenal glands ( Addison's Disease ). This section also contains information on overactive adrenal glands , including Cushing's syndrome and adrenal tumours .


Addison's disease is the result of an underactive adrenal gland, producing insufficient amounts of corticosteroid hormones (e.g. cortisol and aldosterone ). Corticosteroids help the body respond to stress. 4 in every 100,000 people have Addison's disease. The causes of Addison's disease include:

  • Actual destruction of the adrenal glands through cancer, infection, or other diseases. This accounts for about one-third of Addison's disease cases.
  • Use of corticosteroids as a treatment causes a slow down in production of natural corticosteroids by the adrenal glands.
  • Certain drugs used to treat fungal infections may block production of corticosteroids in the adrenal glands.
  • Usually, the cause is unknown.

Symptoms and Signs

Mild Addison's disease symptoms may only be apparent when the patient is under physical stress. The most common symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Dark skin
  • Black freckles
  • Bluish-black discoloration
    around the nipples, mouth,
    rectum, scrotum, or vagina
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Dehydration

However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.
If not treated, Addison's disease may lead to severe abdominal pain, extreme weakness, low blood pressure, kidney failure, and shock, especially when the patient is experiencing physical stress. For more information on the health repercussions of inadequate corticosteroid production, click here .

Diagnosis and Treatment

In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, diagnostic procedures for Addison's disease may include blood tests to measure corticosteroid hormone levels and kidney function tests to determine if urine is concentrated.
Since Addison's disease can be life threatening, treatment often begins with administration of corticosteroids. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, may be taken orally or intravenously, depending on the patient's condition. Usually the patient has to continue taking the corticosteroid the rest of his/her life. Treatment may also include taking fludrocortisone , a drug that helps restore the body's level of sodium and potassium.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. From The Merck Manual of Medical Information Home Edition , edited by Mark H. Beers and Robert Berkow. Copyright 1997 by Merck & Co., Inc., Whitehouse Station, NJ:
2. University of Maryland Medical System Online Health Guides:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Addison's disease
Underactive Adrenal Gland
    From HONselect
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Addison's Disease:
The Pathology Guy

Adrenal Cortex Hormones
Colorado State University

Colorado State University


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Contact Last modified: Oct 20 2004