What causes Addison’s disease?

What causes Addison’s disease?

Addison ‘s disease, or adrenal insufficiency, happens when there is damage to the outer layer of the adrenal glands.

It is most commonly caused by the glands being targeted by the immune system as if they were toxic bacteria or viruses. It can be induced in other ways, though.

The adrenal glands are located just above each kidney, and form part of the endocrine system. They generate hormones in our bodies that influence any organ and tissue. There are 2 layers of the adrenal glands, the medulla (interior) and the cortex (outer layer). Adrenaline-like hormones are formed by the medulla, while the cortex secretes corticosteroids.

Important facts about Addison’s disease

Here are some key points about Addison ‘s disease. The main article provides more descriptions and supporting material.

  • Addison’s disease is caused by disruptions to the adrenal glands, preventing normal secretions of corticosteroids.
  • Disruptions may be caused by immune system response, genetic defects, or other conditions, including cancer.
  • The most common cause is an immune system response.

Adrenal gland disruption

Adrenal gland disruption
The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. They produce hormones, but when this process is disrupted, it can cause Addison’s disease.

Hormone production disruptions in the adrenal glands triggers Addison’s disease. A variety of causes, including an autoimmune disease, tuberculosis, or a genetic defect, may cause this disturbance. Nevertheless, nearly 80 percent of cases of Addison’s disease was triggered by autoimmune disorders in developed nations.

When 90 percent of the adrenal cortex is lost, the adrenal glands stop developing adequate steroid hormones (cortisol and aldosterone). As soon as levels of these hormones begin to decline, the signs and symptoms of Addison’s disease begin to appear.

Autoimmune conditions

The body’s defense mechanism against injury, contaminants, or bacteria is the immune system. The immune system develops antibodies when a person is sick, which target whatever causes them to be sick.

The immune systems of certain individuals may tend to target healthy tissue and organs, which is considered an autoimmune disorder.

In the case of Addison’s disease, adrenal gland cells are targeted by the immune system, steadily reducing how well they will operate.

Addison ‘s disease is also known as Addison’s autoimmune disease, and is the result of an autoimmune disorder.

Genetic causes of Autoimmune Addison ‘s Disease

Latest findings have found that certain individuals with particular genes are more likely to develop an autoimmune disorder.

The genes most commonly identified with the disease belong to a family of genes called the human leukocyte antigen ( HLA) cluster, but the genetics of Addison’s are not well known. This complex allows the immune system to differentiate between the proteins of the body itself and those formed by viruses and bacteria.

There is at least one other autoimmune condition in certain people with autoimmune Addison’s disease, such as hypothyroidism, type 1 diabetes, or vitiligo.


A bacterial infection that affects the lungs and can spread to other areas of the body is tuberculosis (TB). It can seriously harm them if TB enters the adrenal glands, disrupting their hormone production.

TB patients have a higher risk of adrenal gland damage, which makes them more likely to develop Addison’s disease.

In America, cases of Addison’s disease caused by TB are rare because TB is now less prevalent. There are higher concentrations, however, in countries where TB is a major concern.

Other causes

Having surgery to remove the adrenal glands may cause Addison’s disease in some cases.
Having surgery to remove the adrenal glands may cause Addison’s disease in some cases.

Addison’s disease may also be caused by other factors that affect the adrenal glands:

  • a genetic defect in which the adrenal glands do not develop properly
  • a hemorrhage
  • adrenalectomy – the surgical removal of the adrenal glands
  • amyloidosis
  • an infection, such as HIV or a disseminated fungal infection
  • cancer that has metastasized to the adrenal glands

Secondary adrenal insufficiency

If the pituitary gland gets diseased, the adrenal glands may also be adversely impacted. The pituitary induces adrenocorticotropic hormone ( ACTH) normally. The adrenal glands are activated by this hormone to produce hormones.

If the pituitary is weakened or diseased, the adrenal glands develop less ACTH and thus less hormones, but they are not themselves diseased. This is considered adrenal secondary insufficiency.


Any individuals who take anabolic steroids can increase their risk of Addison’s disease, such as bodybuilders. The release of hormones triggered by taking steroids will affect the capacity of the adrenal glands to generate healthy quantities of hormones , particularly for a long period of time, which can increase the risk of developing the disease.

Glucocorticoids act like cortisol, such as cortisone, hydrocortisone, prednisone, prednisolone, and dexamethasone. In other words, the body assumes that cortisol is growing and that it suppresses ACTH. A reduction in ACTH, as described above, allows the adrenal glands to release less hormones.

Individuals who take oral corticosteroids and then avoid taking them for conditions such as lupus or inflammatory bowel disorder can also suffer secondary adrenal insufficiency.