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Addison’s disease is the common name for hypoadrenocorticism, or adrenal insufficiency.

The adrenal glands do not produce enough, if any, of several hormones, including aldosterone, which maintains sodium and potassium levels to regulate blood pressure (among other important functions), and cortisol, which helps the body metabolize glucose and deal effectively with physical and mental stresses of all kinds. It can occur with people as well as animals.

The two adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney and are sometimes called the suprarenal glands. They are made up of two layers, the outer cortex and the inner medulla. The cortex secretes glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, and mineralocorticoids, such as aldosterone.

The medulla area of the adrenal gland, part of the sympathetic nervous system, secretes epinephrine and is generally not affected by Addison’s.

There are three types of Addison’s disease: primary, secondary, and atypical. Primary and atypical Addison’s are usually the result of immune-mediated damage to the glands. Secondary hypoadrenocorticism is failure of the pituitary to stimulate the adrenals with adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). It is most often the result of long-term corticosteroid therapy (i.e., prednisone), and also can be caused by tumors, trauma, or pituitary deformities.

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