The adrenal glands are small organs in the human body that are positioned on the top of each kidney. These glands are responsible for secreting a number of hormones, including cortisol and aldosterone, which are crucial for maintaining normal body function. When these glands produce unusually low levels of hormones, a patient can be diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency, which is also called Addison’s disease. Adrenal gland deficiency symptoms may be difficult to identify but should be discussed with a doctor if they occur.
Dizziness, Weakness or Fatigue
Patients who produce insufficient levels of adrenal hormones can become unusually dizzy, weak or fatigued as symptoms of this condition, explains the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. Sensations of dizziness may be most apparent when a patient attempts to sit up or stand up quickly. Muscle weakness and dizziness can also cause affected patients to appear unstable while standing or walking. Additionally, excessive fatigue during the day can negatively impact a patient’s productivity at work or school. These adrenal insufficiency symptoms should be discussed with a doctor as soon as possible, as they may also be signs of alternate medical conditions.
Adrenal gland deficiency symptoms typically arise when at least 90 percent of the adrenal cortex, the outer layer of the adrenal gland, no longer functions normally, explains the Addison’s Disease Self Help Group. Over time, patients with this condition can develop unusual darkening of the skin, a symptom called hyperpigmentation. These darkened skin patches can appear blue or black in color and may develop across any region of the body, including the face, shoulders, nipples, vagina, scrotum or rectum, reports the Merck Manuals. If this adrenal gland deficiency is left untreated, skin discoloration can be permanent and may continue to spread across the body.
Stomach Upset and Weight Loss
Approximately 50 percent of patients with adrenal gland deficiency develop stomach upset symptoms, explains the Pituitary Network Association. These stomach-related symptoms can include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Patients who develop these symptoms may also experience abdominal cramping or bloating, decreased appetite and unintended weight loss. Adrenal insufficiency causes the body to lose high levels of salt, which may cause salty-food cravings in certain patients. Uncomfortable mouth lesions may also develop as a symptom of adrenal gland deficiency in affected patients.
Kidney Failure or Shock
If left untreated, Addison’s disease can cause kidney failure or shock in certain patients, warns the Merck Manuals. Changes in heart rate or blood pressure often precede these symptoms of adrenal gland deficiency. Kidney failure and shock can be life-threatening and require immediate emergency medical care.
About this Author
Rae Uddin has worked as a freelance writer and editor since 2004. She specializes in scientific journalism and medical and technical writing. Her work has appeared in various online publications. Uddin earned her Master of Science in integrated biomedical sciences with an emphasis in molecular and cellular biochemistry from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine.