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To Diagnose Addison’s Disease, You Need to Undergo These Tests

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  • If you are showing signs of Addison’s disease, then you should consult a physician immediately to confirm if you have this illness
  • Before undergoing these tests, talk to your physician thoroughly and make sure that you know the potential risks (if any) of taking these tests

If you are showing signs of Addison’s disease, then you should consult a physician immediately to confirm if you have this illness, so that you can come up with an effective and suitable treatment and management plan.

Your doctor will first review your medical history and ask you about your symptoms. Your family’s history of this disease or any autoimmune disorder will also be discussed. Afterward, your physician will look for the physical hallmarks of this condition, namely brownish discoloration of your skin. This is called hyperpigmentation, and may be found in certain areas, such as:1

  • The skin creases on your palm
  • Creases in your elbow crease
  • Your lips and gums
  • Your scars (if any)

But because hyperpigmentation is not apparent in all Addison’s disease cases, other tests will still be conducted.

For example, your physician will check your blood pressure while lying down and then after standing up, to see if you have orthostatic hypotension — this is having low blood pressure during changes in position. Below are other diagnostic methods for Addison’s disease.2,3

Blood Tests

The levels of cortisol, sodium and potassium in your body will be checked through a blood test. If you have low sodium, low cortisol and high potassium levels, this may be indicative of Addison’s disease. An endocrinologist will also conduct blood tests for these following markers of Addison’s disease:

  • Low blood glucose levels
  • Low levels of aldosterone hormone
  • High levels of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH)
  • Positive adrenal antibodies that attack the adrenal gland

ACTH Test (Synacthen Stimulation Test)

This may be conducted to further confirm your diagnosis. It uses a synthetic form of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), called synacthen, which will then be injected into your body through a vein or as a shot into a muscle. ACTH, a hormone produced naturally by your pituitary gland, triggers your adrenal glands to release cortisol and aldosterone.

Another name for the chemical used for the synacthen test is tetracosactide.4 Before and after it is injected, the levels of cortisol in your blood will be monitored. If the adrenal glands are damaged, the test will show that there is no cortisol hormone released, or that it is limited, even if your ACTH levels are high.

Thyroid Function Test

Your doctor will also suggest determining whether your thyroid gland, found in your neck, is properly working. The thyroid produces hormones that are necessary for growth and metabolism. People with Addison’s disease usually have an underactive thyroid gland, meaning it is not able to produce sufficient hormones.

Imaging Scans

The size of your adrenal glands may be checked by your physician through imaging scans, such as computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This may also reveal other abnormalities that may play a factor in adrenal insufficiency.

An MRI specifically can be used to check your pituitary gland and see if there is secondary adrenal insufficiency.

Insulin-Induced Hypoglycemia Test

Some physicians may recommend getting this test to see if pituitary disease may be causing your secondary adrenal insufficiency. You will be given insulin injections and your blood sugar and cortisol levels will be checked at certain intervals. In healthy people, cortisol levels will increase while glucose levels will fall.

Before undergoing these tests, talk to your physician and make sure that you know the potential risks (if any) of taking these tests. For example, some people may have an allergic reaction, such as hives, dizziness or blurred vision, to the tetracosactide. Also, if you have heart failure or a current infection, your doctor may advise you not to have a synacthen test.5

Make sure you discuss your condition thoroughly, so that the correct diagnostic procedures will be performed.


Addison's Disease: Introduction

What Is Addison's Disease?

Addison's Disease Symptoms

Addison's Disease Causes

Addison's Disease in Children

Addison's Disease Test

Addison's Disease Treatment

Addison's Disease Prevention

Addison's Disease Diet

Addison's Disease FAQ

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