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Signs and symptoms

The symptoms associated with adrenal insufficiency are often vague and nonspecific. They may emerge slowly, first appearing during times of stress, then increasing in intensity over a period of several months. Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Decreased body hair
  • Dehydration (only in Addison’s disease)
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Hyperpigmentation (only in Addison’s disease - dark patches of skin, especially in the folds of the skin. Sometime black freckles on the forehead and face and/or discolouration around areas such as the nipples, lips, and rectum)
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Low blood pressure
  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Muscle weakness
  • Salt craving (only in Addison’s disease)
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

Sometimes, however, the signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency may appear suddenly. About 25% of the time, adrenal insufficiency is diagnosed during a crisis (also called an Addisonian crisis). This crisis may be caused by a period of increased stress, trauma, surgery, or a severe infection. If left untreated it can be fatal. In acute adrenal failure (Addisonian crisis), the signs and symptoms may include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Severe pain in the lower back, abdomen or legs
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhoea, leading to dehydration
  • Shock

Last Review Date: January 17, 2015