Addison’s disease is a rare genetic disease that not only affects one in 100,000 adults mostly in the age group of 30 to 50 years, but can also affect animals like dogs. Named after Thomas Addison, the British physician who first described it in humans, the disease is an endocrinal disorder that affects the adrenal glands and impairs the production of steroidal hormones like cortisol and aldosterone. John F. Kennedy, the former President of the United States, was one of the best-known people with Addison's disease and was possibly one of the first to survive a major surgery.
The causes of the disease include destruction of parts of the adrenal gland due to a genetic disorder, or by body’s own immune system or due to improper supply of cholesterol that is essential to the production of cortisol and aldosterone hormones. A characteristic symptom of the disease is the darkening of skin in certain areas of the body due to a subsequent increase in the melanocyte stimulating hormone – a hormone that stimulates melanocytes which produced melanin. Weight loss, fatigue, low blood pressure, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain are other symptoms.
Treating Addison’s disease involves replacing the missing cortisol hormone using a life-long hormone replacement therapy. Without such treatment, the individual could be testing death. Being a rare disorder, it is likely that most patients with the disease are either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. A greater awareness about the disease may help in accurate diagnosis and thus save precious lives.