If Addison's disease is not diagnosed or is left untreated, there may be serious and potentially fatal complications such as an adrenal crisis.
Low levels of cortisol
If you have not yet been diagnosed with Addison's disease, you may not realise that your body is low in the hormone cortisol. Cortisol helps your body to cope with the effects of stress, by maintaining your blood pressure and heart function.
If you are low in cortisol, and you have a stressful experience, such as a surgical operation, or a severe injury or infection your body may not be able to cope. You could start to experience adrenal crisis. This is also possible if you lose too much salt from your body through bleeding or sweating.
Adrenal crisis can be fatal and will require urgent medical attention.
Complications from adrenal crisis
Adrenal crisis is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately. If it is left untreated, it can lead to coma and death. Adrenal crisis can cause:
- cardiac arrest: when the heart stops completely
- stroke: when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted
- hypovolaemic shock: when severe blood and fluid loss means that your heart cannot pump enough blood around your body
- hypoxia: when the body's tissues do not get enough oxygen
If any of your organs or tissues, including your brain, do not get enough oxygen, it can cause permanent disability.
Read more about the symptoms of an adrenal crisis.
Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) is a symptom of Addison's disease. If left untreated it can cause unconsciousness, particularly in children. While you are unconscious, your brain will not get enough sugar, which may cause memory loss or even brain damage.
Symptoms of hypoglycaemia can include:
- feeling very tired
- difficulty concentrating
- confusion or aggression
Read more about the symptoms of hypoglycaemia.