Symptoms & Types

The initial symptoms of Addison's disease, such as tiredness, a lack of energy and muscle weakness, are similar to the symptoms of many other health conditions, such as depression, anaemia, an underactive thyroid, chronic fatigue syndrome or flu.

Addison's Disease

At first, the symptoms of Addison’s disease are similar to other more common health conditions such as depression or flu. Dehydration can also be an early sign due to the lack of aldosterone in the body.

Although these aren’t always caused by Addison’s disease, if you have them, see your GP. They may want to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of Addison’s disease.

Initial Symptoms

Other initial symptoms of Addison’s disease include:

  • Fatigue (lack of energy or motivation)
  • Lethargy (abnormal drowsiness or tiredness)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Low mood (mild depression) or irritability
  • Loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • The need to urinate frequently
  • Increased thirst
  • Craving for salty foods
  • Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)

Progressive Symptoms

The symptoms of Addison’s disease tend to develop gradually over time. However, any additional stress, caused by another illness or an accident for example, may cause your symptoms to suddenly get worse.

The symptoms listed above may become more frequent or severe or you may experience further symptoms, such as:

  • Low blood pressure when you stand up (postural or
  • Orthostatic hypotension)
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Feeling like you are going to be sick (nausea)
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Abdominal, joint or back pain
  • Muscle cramps
  • Chronic exhaustion, which may cause depression or tearfulness
  • Brownish discolouration of the skin, lips and gums (hyperpigmentation), particularly in the creases on your palms, on scars or on pressure points, such as your knuckles or knees
  • In women, a reduced libido (a lack of interest in sex)

Symptoms such as sweating and, very occasionally, psychosis occur but are unusual. Some women may also have irregular periods or miss some periods completely.

If you're experiencing these symptoms, see your GP so that they can diagnose or rule out Addison’s disease.

Adrenal crisis

If Addison’s disease is left untreated, the levels of cortisol and aldosterone in the body will gradually decrease. This will cause the symptoms to get progressively worse and eventually lead to a situation that is known as an adrenal crisis.

During an adrenal crisis the symptoms of Addison’s disease appear very quickly and very severely. This could happen when previous symptoms have been getting worse, or without previous symptoms.

An adrenal crisis is a medical emergency. If left untreated it can be fatal. If you or someone you know have Addison’s disease and experience any of the symptoms listed below, dial 999 to request an ambulance.

The symptoms of an adrenal crisis are:

  • Severe dehydration.
  • Severe hypotension.
  • Shock (when your organs and tissues are not receiving enough blood).
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Extreme muscle weakness.
  • Headache.
  • Extreme sleepiness or coma.