Addison Disease

Updated: Jul 20, 2016
  • Author: George T Griffing, MD; Chief Editor: Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP  more...
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Thomas Addison first described the clinical presentation of primary adrenocortical insufficiency (Addison disease) in 1855 in his classic paper, On the Constitutional and Local Effects of Disease of the Supra-Renal Capsules. [1]



Addison disease (or Addison's disease) is adrenocortical insufficiency due to the destruction or dysfunction of the entire adrenal cortex. It affects glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid function. The onset of disease usually occurs when 90% or more of both adrenal cortices are dysfunctional or destroyed.




United States

The prevalence of Addison disease is 40-60 cases per 1 million population.


The occurrence of Addison disease is rare. The reported prevalence in countries where data are available is 39 cases per 1 million population in Great Britain and 60 cases per 1 million population in Denmark. A study by Olafsson and Sigurjonsdottir found the prevalence of primary adrenal insufficiency in Iceland to be 22.1 per 100,000 population. [2]


Morbidity and mortality associated with Addison disease usually are due to failure or delay in making the diagnosis or a failure to institute adequate glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement. [3]

If not treated promptly, acute addisonian crisis may result in death. This may be provoked either de novo, such as by adrenal hemorrhage, or in the setting of an acute event superimposed on chronic or inadequately treated adrenocortical insufficiency.

With slow-onset chronic Addison disease, significant low-level, nonspecific, but debilitating, symptomatology may occur.

Even after diagnosis and treatment, the risk of death is more than 2-fold higher in patients with Addison disease. Cardiovascular, malignant, and infectious diseases are responsible for the higher mortality rate. [4]

White and Arlt examined the prevalence of and risk factors for adrenal crisis in patients with Addison disease, utilizing a survey of Addison patients in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The authors' results indicated that approximately 8% of patients diagnosed with Addison disease require annual hospital treatment for adrenal crisis. In addition, the investigators concluded that exposure to gastric infection is the most important risk factor for adrenal crisis in the presence of Addison disease; diabetes and/or asthma [5] concomitant with Addison disease also increase the risk, according to White and Arlt. [6]


Addison disease is not associated with a racial predilection.


Idiopathic autoimmune Addison disease tends to be more common in females and children.


The most common age at presentation in adults is 30-50 years, but the disease could present earlier in patients with any of the polyglandular autoimmune syndromes, congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), or if onset is due to a disorder of long-chain fatty acid metabolism.