Actually, there is nothing funny about Addison’s Disease except you may end up on the medical’s examiner’s table awaiting autopsy before you are diagnosed, unless of course, you are the President of the United States as John F. Kennedy was.
Addison’s Disease is the great pretender in that it mimics many illness, and patients are routinely dismissed and sent home with a bottle of pills, and given some vague diagnosis such as flu, fatigue, female or male difficulties, backache, headache, or just plain hypochondria. Addison’s Disease is also rare with only a 1 to 100,000 ratio. With such odds, a doctor could conceivably spend his entire career without encountering a single case of Addison’s Disease.
Addison Disease seems to arise between the age of thirty to fifty, and has no known cause. Apparently, it just happens, and the lucky recipient can expect to exhaust an entire line of physicians in several states before receiving the proper diagnosis, and only then if he or she is lucky enough to be referred to an endocrinologist. Addison’s Disease comes in shades of primary and secondary; primary if the condition involves the Adrenal Glands only, secondary if the origin is associated to a tumor in another gland such as the pituitary.
To fully understand Addison Disease, one must first understand what is involved. Addison is a malfunction or injury of the Adrenal Glands which sit atop the kidneys and produce cortisol, which in turn secretes adrenalin which provides strength, stamina, and stimulates a fully array of body functions. When the Adrenal Glands cease the production of cortisol, the patient gets weaker and sicker until he goes into Addisonian Crisis which causes confusion, fever, loss of consciousness, and eventual death. At the point of Addisonian Crisis, prompt medical intervention is required and involves hydrocortisone injections and a saline drip administered by emergency personnel. This can only happen if the patient is wearing a medical id tag on his person that reads, ‘Adrenal insufficiency, cortisone dependent’. Otherwise, the EMT’s will think the patient is having a heart attack, and can break your ribs but not save you as what is needed is cortisone.
The symptoms are vague and could be many things or nothing; fatigue, low sugar levels, low blood pressure, depression, irritability, low pulse, nausea, dehydrated, and sensitivity to cold. You could show up at your nearest emergency room with those symptoms, and if you are lucky, receive an aspirin.
At the point the person receives a diagnosis, he is indeed a sick puppy with cravings for salty foods, low body temperature, sores in his mouth, unable to eat without the food coming right back up, possesses no appetite, and has experienced an extreme weight loss. It’s hard for any doctor to tell an 85 pound patient who is projectile vomiting on the floor and too weak to stand that he should go home and take an aspirin. Unfortunately, this is the point where patients are usually diagnosed, and it will be an uphill battle to regain former health.
Only then is the patient with Addison Diseases free to resume his life. Usually, stunned that a little pill twice daily is all that was needed, and most grateful he had been diagnosed. It is not uncommon for a Addison patient to thank the doctor who has diagnosed him because for the first time he begins to realize it was not ‘all in his head’.
All that is left is to take the meds twice daily as prescribed, and wear a medical alert necklace or bracelet that clearly identifies the condition as ‘Adrenal Insufficiency -Cortisone Dependent’. Not one of those cutesy things, but something the paramedics can see at first glace, because the Addison patient no longer possesses the ‘fight or flight’ instinct, and could easily go into shock by trauma or injury. Wear that tag, and wear it proudly. You have survived Addisonian Crisis, and lived to tell about it.