More frequently asked questions - c diguer





We just survived our first Addisonian crisis at home. Is it common for an emergency injection (we used
solu-cortef, my wife normally takes about 5mg prednisone) to disrupt the menstrual cycle?

Any significant stress can interfere with the regularity of the menstrual cycle. Since there are possibly many factors involved, including why the crisis took place, you should review this with your family doctor or endocrinologist who would know your wife's complete history and would be in a position to access the circumstances.
Can low aldosterone present with high blood pressure? A friend was started on 30mg in hospital and
increased by the endocrinologist to 40mg. She is extremely thirsty and has gained 20lbs over several
weeks. Her blood pressure is high and unstable. The doctor says Florinef is not indicated because her
blood pressure is already high.

Low aldosterone will not cause high blood pressure. The decision not to start on Florinef was a reasonable one in someone who has high blood pressure. I suspect the reason your friend gained 20lbs is likely because he/she is on too much cortisol. A dose of 20mg a day of cortisol is usually enough if it is spread throughout the day. While some people feel better on 30mg, I think that 40mg is too much cortisol.

For the past year, I have had increasing episodes of dizziness, two of which resulted in falls. My body has
felt weak and I have had several infections, both respiratory and bladder. My family doctor (for one
reason or another) did a cortisol test which came back as being very low. I was forwarded to an
endocrinologist who repeated the morning cortisol level and agreed that the cortisol was low and
suggested an insulin hypoglycaemic test. This was performed and she informed me that I have cortisol
insufficiency. She now wants to do an MRI of my pituitary gland. She has also prescribed Cortef 10mg
twice a day for at least one year. Initially she thought the problem was Addison's disease which I
understood was an adrenal insufficiency. My questions are why is an MRI being performed? Is Cortef a
safe drug to take for cortisol insufficiency? I am a bit concerned about taking a steroid for such a long
period of time. I have heard that they can cause weight gain etc. I do have a call into the endocrinologist
to get more answers as the message regarding my test results was left on my answering machine and
thus I did not get to ask her any questions. Does this sound like Addison's disease or are there other
causes for cortisol insufficiency?

The fact that your cortisol response to insulin induced hypoglycaemia was low, would be in keeping with adrenal insufficiency. This problem can be due to destruction of the adrenal glands or to a problem in the pituitary gland which controls the adrenal gland by its production of ACTH. Usually ACTH is measured along with cortisol during the insulin test and this helps to determine the cause of the problem. The MRI is done to visualize the pituitary if there is any concern that you could have a pituitary problem. I am glad that you are going to talk to your endocrinologist to find out exactly what was found during testing. If it was shown that you have adrenal insufficiency the treatment is usually lifelong. Your endocrinologist will follow you, be sure the dose is correct and you should not gain weight. If the problem is in the pituitary gland, you would require other investigation and treatment. It is important to discuss the tests and the treatment with your endocrinologist so you truly understand the cause and the management of the problem so you will be able to make the right decisions if you have any problems in the future.
Can a young woman of 17 or 18 take birth control if she has Addison's disease?

Yes. There is no contraindication for individuals with Addison's disease to using the pill. There are however, contraindications to using the birth control pill in the general population that should be respected.
Is it possible to raise your cortisol levels in Addison's by using a certain birth control pill instead of
hydrocortisone? I'm a 33 year old female and do not look forward to the side effect profiles presented by
the medicines like prednisone, hydrocortisone, etc. Is there a birth control pill that would raise my
cortisol levels adequately and present an alternative to hydrocortisone treatment?

You have asked if there is an alternative to taking hydrocortisone for the treatment of Addison's disease. Since the problem in Addison's disease is a deficiency of hydrocortisone, there is no alterative but to replace the hydrocortisone by using hydrocortisone itself or another glucocorticoid. I prefer hydrocortisone. The good news is that you do not have to have bad side effects from the hydrocortisone if the dose is correctly adjusted. By keeping the dose to the lowest dose that makes you feel well, you should be replacing what you need without an excessive dose. This dose would be a total of 15 to 30mg per day in divided doses, generally around 20mg. The birth control pill does not provide any glucocorticoid. In individuals on the birth control pill, the plasma cortisol levels rise to almost twice the normal levels, but this is because there is an increase in the levels of the protein that transports hydrocortisone in the blood. This increased hydrocortisone is not available to get into the tissues so the effective level of hydrocortisone is unchanged. There is a new form of birth control pill - YASMIN - which is contra-indicated for people with adrenal
problems. Why?

Yasmin is a birth control pill that contains an estrogen and a progestational agent as in other birth control pills. The difference is that the progestational component in Yasmin is different from other birth control pills since it also blocks the action of aldosterone, the adrenal hormone that stimulates the kidney to retain salt. This may be a desirable effect in some women because it decreases fluid retention, but in individuals with Addison's disease who are taking Florinef, it will block the salt-retaining effects of the Florinef and could cause a fall in blood pressure. It is therefore not a good choice for women with Addison's disease.
I am an 85 year old male, in excellent health, who has had Addison's disease for 38 years. I have been on
the same dosage of Cortisone Acetate since 1968. I take 25mg in the am and 12.5mg in the pm. I started
on Florinef in 1978, which I took for about 22 years until my blood pressure started to increase, and the
Florinef was discontinued. My systolic reading is from 150 to 175, while my diastolic is 55 to 75. Both are
tending to increase. I am now taking 2.5mg of Altace daily. My doctor keeps wanting to increase the
Altace because of the high systolic reading. Should I be concerned that my systolic reading is higher than
normal, while the diastolic reading is below normal?

The problem of treating high blood pressure in patients with Addison's disease poses some specific problems. Cutting back or stopping the Florinef is logically the first step as has been done in your case. It is important to follow serum potassium once the Florinef has been stopped. The addition of Altace as a next step is a reasonable one, but if this is not achieving the desired result, I tend to try a calcium channel blocker such as verapamil. I would avoid Norvasc because it causes ankle swelling. Your family doctor has obviously taken good care of you and it is reasonable to try to keep your blood pressure under control. At age 85, you may be sensitive to medication, so it is wise to start at a low dose and gradually increase it if necessary. It is also wise to stop medication that is not achieving the desired result when starting something new to avoid getting on a variety of preparations that cause some cross reactions.
A question was raised about the relationship of high blood pressure and small hemorrhages appearing
over the white part of the eyes.

First of all, we try to regulate the amount of Florinef to avoid causing high blood pressure but patients with adrenal problems can have the usual types of high blood pressure seen in the general population. In general, high blood pressure is less common in patients with adrenal insufficiency than in the general population. The small hemorrhages are possibly related to increased fragility of the blood vessels and this can be seen in patients who are taking a little more cortisone or prednisone than they might need. This problem can also result in increased bruising, usually on the legs or areas that receive minor trauma.
Can Hydrocortisone cause body tremors (eye tremor, calf tremor and neck tremor)?

None of the biological effects of cortisol cause shaking, so I do not think that this would be a cause for this I read, with interest, the letter to the Doctor in the June 2006 Newsletter. It included various questions, but
the one of interest to me was not answered. This lady had problems with leg muscle twitching after she
went to bed. I also experience this and would very much like to know if other Addisonians do as well, and
I also would like to know what causes this, and/or what can be done about it?

Leg cramps and muscle twitching at night are relatively common complaints in the general population and I am not aware that individuals with Addison's disease are more likely to have these problems. You could discuss this with your family doctor to be sure your sodium, potassium and calcium are normal. Sometimes increased or unusual activity will cause these symptoms temporarily. If this is a problem which is interfering with your sleep, your family doctor may want to do some further studies or try you on some medication to relieve the symptoms. A question was asked with respect to the relationship between rapid eye movements and Hypothyroidism
or Addison's disease.

As far as I am aware there is no relationship between either Hypothyroidism or Addison's disease in eye movement problems. It's possible that patients with Hyperthyroidism or patients who are treated with too much thyroid hormone could have some suggestion of increased rapid eye movements but this would require a fairly significant excess of thyroxin and would be quite unlikely.
I am wondering if it is possible to take a herbal product called COLD-FX that is available to help with the
common cold. It’s designed to help stimulate the immune system. I have Addison's and take 15mg of
Cortef a day.

COLD-FX is a special extract of North American ginseng that is marketed to decrease the frequency and
severity of symptoms of the common cold. The available studies have been carried out on healthy
volunteers and individuals taking corticosteroids were excluded from the study. This exclusion was most
likely designed to exclude individuals taking large doses of steroids as treatment for an underlying
disorder and not at individuals taking physiological doses as is used in Addison's disease. There is
however, no information about its use in individuals with Addison's disease. This is a patented over-the-
counter medication and the active material and mechanism of action are unknown. The clinical studies of
its beneficial effects are limited. Since the common cold is a self limiting problem, it is best to avoid
potential complications of taking a compound which is not well defined. Remember, you should increase
your hydrocortisone (cortisol) by 1/2 to 1 tablet per day, when you have a cold.

I've got quite a bad cold which is not clearing up easily and I feel very unwell. What should I do?

Take an extra cortisol each day for 2 or 3 days until the symptoms improve. Do not carry on longer than necessary.
Can you please tell me where in Canada I can go to get a cortisol day curve done on my wife who has

A day curve follows cortisol levels throughout the day. For individuals who are not in hospital, this would mean going to the lab every 2 or 4hrs starting at 8am until the lab closes, usually at 6pm. This is most useful in someone who is not on cortisol replacement, since it would provide information about the output of cortisol by the adrenal gland. In someone who is on cortisol it would reflect the levels of cortisol produced by the medication and would depend on when the cortisol tablets were taken. In general, this would not provide much useful information unless there is some reason to be concerned that the metabolism of cortisol is altered. This can occur in individuals on some types of medication such as anticonvulsants. Another way to get this type of information, is to do a 24hr urine collection for free cortisol. It would be lower than expected if metabolism is increased. These tests can be arranged at any of the commercial labs. I was diagnosed 12 years ago with Addison's disease. It appears that my hydrocortisone dose is too high
(determined through 24hr urine Cortisol test) and my Florinef is too low. After 4 months I'm still having a
terrible time getting the correct dose. I've asked my doctors where I can have a day curve done; they
don't seem to know, would you?

You've raised two interesting questions. The first is the value of a day curve in determining your hydrocortisone dose and the second is the role of a 24hr urine in determining your dose of hydrocortisone. When you take hydrocortisone by mouth, it is absorbed rapidly and is metabolized fairly quickly. The blood level of hydrocortisone will fall by 50% over 90 minutes. If you take blood levels of hydrocortisone at two to four hour intervals throughout the day and night, the blood level that you measure will depend on when you took your last tablet. The blood level when you wake up will be low and after you take your morning tablet, the blood level will rise into or above the normal range, then fall as the hydrocortisone is metabolized. Normally, hydrocortisone is secreted at intervals during the day and less frequently during the night, then at increasing frequency starting about 4am anticipating our rising in the morning. This provides variation in blood levels during the day with highest in the morning. A day curve will tell you what your blood level is at a specific time and it depends on when you took your last tablet. It does not help much in determining how much you need. A 24hr urine for free cortisol tells us how much hydrocortisone is excreted in the urine unchanged and in general is a good measurement of how much hydrocortisone is produced during the 24hr period. When we take hydrocortisone tablets, our blood levels may at times be higher than normal and at other times low. This may influence how much hydrocortisone is excreted, so once again, may not help to determine how much you need. The most important thing is how you feel. Dose requirements vary and are influenced by your size, what you do and what other medication you are taking. The right dose for you is the smallest dose that makes you feel well. The dose of Florinef (fludrocortisone) is best determined by checking plasma renin and your blood pressure. A dose of 0.1mg daily is the commonest, but it can vary significantly from person to person. You should review these questions with your family doctor or endocrinologist to be sure there are no specific circumstances in your case that requires different treatment.
I have recently been diagnosed with Addison's disease after being ill for 4 or 5 years. The brown
pigmentation of my skin was the symptom that eventually led to the Addison's diagnosis. During that
period I lost about 15 pounds, and now weigh 97lbs. I also lost a great deal of muscle mass and have very
little strength. I have been taking 0.1 Florinef and 0.5 Dexamethasone for about three weeks. The other
day I went out for a half-hour walk, and found it quite tiring, but I was kept awake all night by the twitching
of my leg muscles. Is this a problem that can be addressed by adjusting my medication or can I expect it
to resolve itself through getting used to the medication, or further exercise?

It is good that your diagnosis has been established. Once the doses of your medication get stabilized you should gradually regain your strength and energy and regain your lost weight. Most endocrinologists prefer hydrocortisone rather than the dexamethasone as the glucocorticoid replacement but there is room for discussion. The argument for dexamethasone is that it is long acting and only has to be taken once per day. Since it does not provide the normal fluctuations in glucocorticoid levels throughout the day, even doses that seem in the physiological range usually result in over treatment because the cells in the body are exposed continuously to glucocorticoid. The argument for hydrocortisone is that it is the hormone that the adrenal gland normally produces and is metabolized fairly rapidly. This means that the cells in the body are normally exposed episodically to varying levels of hydrocortisone throughout the day. Hydrocortisone replacement is usually given twice or preferably three times per day with the largest dose in the morning and smaller doses at lunch and in the late afternoon or at dinner. Usually the total dose is 20 to 30mg. "The smallest dose that makes you feel well is the best dose." You should always be sure to discuss your treatment with your family doctor or endocrinologist because each person has different needs and in some cases, other medications can effect the rate of metabolism of hydrocortisone. I have been told that changing brands of drug might affect the effectiveness of my replacement
medications. Could you please comment?

Substitution of drug preparations: Pharmacists will generally give you the least expensive preparation of a drug unless there is a specific request for no substitution. Different brands or generic versions of drugs may have slightly different binders, fillers, coatings, and densities. This might affect your absorption rate. I am not aware of any studies looking at the bioavailability of different preparations of hydrocortisone (cortisol), cortisone, or prednisone from different manufacturers, but it is generally good practice to stay with the same preparation to avoid possible differences in pill content. If you have switched brands and have symptoms of glucocorticoid excess or deficiency, discuss this with your doctor so proper adjustments in dosage are made. I have Addison's disease, celiac disease, vitiligo, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, early menopause, Type II
Diabetes, hypertension and LDL of 120. For years I was on 50mg. hydrocortisone. More recently (10
years) i have been on 15mg Cortef daily. I also take 0.1mg fludrocortisone, 16mg Atacand, 0.125mg
Levoxyl and 81mg Aspirin every other day. My doctor also wants me to take 1/2 tablet 10/40 Vytorin.
Would less fludrocortisone help lower hypertension without the use of antihypertensives? My blood
pressure still runs in the 140/80's even on Atacand.

You have almost the complete spectrum of autoimmune endocrine problems, but it sounds as if you are doing well and are being well looked after. Your doctor wants you to start the Vytorin because your LDL cholesterol is higher than it should be in someone with Diabetes. Blood Pressure of 140/80 is a little high and the suggestion to lower the dosage of Fludrocortisone is a reasonable one. The dose of Fludrocortisone varies from 0.05 to 2.0mg per day so you should discuss this with your doctor. Whether this is a good idea or not depends on your past treatment experience. My grandmother, with whom I have been very close, became ill, was hospitalized and underwent surgery.
One month later she died. The whole period has been very difficult for me and I have felt unwell
throughout. Should I be taking extra cortisol?

You should monitor yourself, and you may need to increase your cortisol by 1/2 to 1 tablet daily during times of highest stress. I was wondering about exercise, Addison's and energy levels. I know that if you are"normal" and you exercise,
your cortisone increases and your energy in turn increases. What happens when you have Addison's (or no
adrenal glands) and you exercise hard? Is your cortisone used up? Does an Addisonian have more energy after
exercise (like a normal person)? I have noticed recently that when I have a good workout (e.g. - sweating a lot), that
afterwards I feel sick. I try to eat something with a lot of salt, like pretzels, but this nauseated feeling doesn't go
away until much later. So, my question is, if a person who has Addison's exercises hard, should they be taking
more cortisone?

If you are going to be doing hard exercise you should take less medication in the morning i.e. Prednisone 4 mg. in the morning and 1 mg. before exercise. (5 mg. Prednisone = 25mg. cortisone acetate = 20 mg. hydrocortisone). Salt and fluids are lost and should be replaced. Be sure you are replenishing fluids, sugar and salt so you are not getting dehydrated. Salt tastes wil change according to need i.e. heavy exercise, cross country ski ng, in a sweaty hot environment, premenopausal and sweating wil also cause water and salt loss. CHILDREN

My 8 year old daughter has Addison's disease. She takes Cortef three times a day by chewing the pills.
Her teeth always look like she does not brush them, even though she does, and they have white spots on
them. Could this be because of the Cortef?

Before making any comments about the white spots on your daughter's teeth, I would like to hear what her dentist has to say. Since I don't have that option, I will suggest some possibilities, but emphasize that your dentist should see these spots to determine what part of the tooth is involved. My first thought is that in this age group, there is a high incidence of systemic candidiasis associated with adrenal insufficiency (Addison's disease). This candidiasis is a monilial (fungal) infection that shows up as white spots usually on the tongue and inside of the mouth. It is possible some of this material could appear on the teeth. The fact that she is chewing the cortisone could make her more susceptible to this infection if it is not being washed down well with water after chewing. Children with Addison's disease frequently also have a deficiency of parathyroid hormone (hypoparathyroidism). This can result in defects in the calcification of the teeth as they develop. This can be detected with blood tests for calcium, phosphorous and parathyroid hormone. A third possibility could be too much fluoride. All of these suggestions require the expert advice from your dentist and your endocrinologist. DEXAMETHASONE
When switching a patient from one steroid to another (i.e. 0.5mg Dexamethasone to 5.0mg Prednisone),
do you suggest weaning? What would you recommend as the best course of action?

0.5mg of Dexamethasone is a little more glucocorticoid than 5mg of Prednisone. I would suggest stopping the Dex and then starting with 7.5mg of Prednisone (1 tablet a.m., ½ tablet p.m.). If all is going well, consider stopping the p.m. half tablet.
Do you recommend that your patients carry steroids in an injectible form in case of an emergency?

As you know, there is no ideal portable injectible steroid. The most satisfactory preparation is Solu-cortef which comes in a bottle with dry powder and the solvent which can be easily mixed and then drawn up in a syringe for intramuscular or intravenous injection. This combination of 100mg of Solu-cortef and a syringe (10 cc) and needle would be handy if someone were traveling to an out-of-the-way spot. Most emergency departments would have this and they would also give about 1 liter of saline with it. FLU VACCINATION
I have recently been diagnosed with Addison's disease. Should I get a vaccination against the flu?

Individuals have different views about getting the flu vaccine. The fact that you have Addison's should not alter your opinion. If you are on appropriate replacement medication, your immune response to the flu vaccine should be normal and you will get normal protection from this year's brand of the flu. It is important to remember that each year new strains of the flu evolve so your protection will not be absolute but vaccination will reduce your chances of getting the flu.
Can I substitute my medications with natural products such as herbs?

There are no herb or naturopathic medications that will replace the medications required for treating Addison's disease. Getting the right dose is the important thing. MEDICAL / DENTAL PROCEDURES-MEDICATION
I recently saw my dentist who suggested that I need to have my wisdom teeth removed. He is going to do
this in the office using general anaesthesia. What should I do about my cortisol?

100mg of Solu-cortef should be administered intravenously before the anaesthetic. You should ensure that the dentist is fully aware of your condition and its requirements.
I am having a gastroscopic exam and will be given a light anesthetic. Should I be increasing my 22.5mg of
Cortef before this procedure and by how much? I previously had a colonoscopy with a light anesthetic
and had to be brought out of the sedation because of a sudden drop in blood pressure. I want to avoid
anything like this again.

You should really be discussing this with your family doctor or endocrinologist. It is a general rule that you should take added hydrocortisone during times of stress and there is no doubt that a gastroscopy is stressful. The question is how much more steroid you need for this particular stress. Since you had problems after your colonoscopy, you should take an extra 20mg tablet the morning of the procedure.
Is surgery out of the question for a person with Addison's?

There is no contraindication to surgery in individuals with Addison's disease. They do however require
coverage with intravenous glucocorticoids prior to the anaesthetic and during the surgery. The important
thing is to be sure that both the anaesthetist and the surgeon are aware that the individual has Addison's
My daughter is in the hospital with appendicitis. The surgeon is going to operate and says that she will be
in and out so quickly that she does not need to be given extra cortisol. Should I accept the surgeon’s

Any surgery or any general anaesthetic will require IV Solu-cortef regardless of the length of surgery.
However, too much cortisone can decrease healing, so do not continue “extra” longer than truly needed

There has been much discussion about blood donation and organ donation of Addisonians from different
parts of the world. Can we as Addisonians in Canada give blood and/or donate organs?

As far as I am aware, there is no restriction regarding these donations. Some Addisonian patients may be anaemic (low hemoglobin) and this may prevent them from donating blood but otherwise there should be no problems
The doctor who treated me for Addison's has left and my new doctor says I'm taking too much of one of
my pills, what should I do?

If you have not seen an endocrinologist about your Addison's disease it is important that you ask for a referral. If there is any question about the dose of any of your medications, it should be discussed with your endocrinologist. If you have seen an endocrinologist in the past, just give him/her a call.
I'm curious about whether I should be getting the hepatitis immunization shots that are being offered by
the organization I volunteer with. These shots would take place in January or February. From what one of
the nurses said, they will not provide hepatitis immunization to anybody who is immunocompromised.

This question that is particularly relevant right now since we are all being asked to get flu shots. The nurses giving the injections have to be sure that the recipient is not allergic to material in the immunization injection, or if they have breathing problems and are using an inhaler, that they have the inhaler with them. Individuals with Addison's disease are not immuno-compromised and should respond normally to the hepatitis immunization. The only situation where this may not be true would be if they had a problem requiring larger doses of cortisol or prednisone. If this were the case, they should wait until the problem is over and then go ahead with the immunization once they are back on maintenance doses of their steroids
I have had Addison's for over 12 years. I'm thirty, but went into menopause in my early twenties. I don't
have children but would like to know if it is at all possible to conceive. I have been told that a donor egg
may be a possibility. What are my options?

The answer is yes, it is possible to conceive. But, you would have to see a gynecologist who specializes in fertility problems. The first problem would be to find an egg donor, and there are a variety of factors that should be discussed with your gynecologist about this. The other steps involve preparation of your uterus with appropriate hormone treatment and fertilization of the donor egg in vitro before placing it into the prepared uterus. Each of these steps require the direction of a gynecologist who specializes in this area. There are many factors involved in this situation and my simplified description may have overlooked some factors in individual cases. These can be covered by your fertility expert.
My friend's biggest issue is an unquenchable, unrelenting thirst throughout the day and night. Awakes
several times each night to drink water and urinate. It's difficult to sleep leading to extreme fatigue.
Muscle spasms and high/unstable blood pressure are also issues. She also has Hashimoto's Thyroidtis
and pernicious anaemia. Amaloride and Vasotec were discontinued after diagnosis of Addison's disease.
Something just is not right in her medications mix maybe contributing to thirst.

Your friend has recently been started on cortisol for Addison's disease and is now thirsty. When someone
presents with increased thirst and increase in urination, the first question would be "what is her blood
sugar?" This is particularly relevant because she has recently been started on cortisol in a fairly large
dose and this could bring out a latent tenancy for diabetes. Hashimoto's tyroiditis and pernicious anaemia
are autoimmune diseases as is Addison's disease so they frequently are present in the same individual.
I just went from cortef to 75ug dexamethasone. So far I feel really good, with no highs or lows and good
energy all day. Is 75ug a reasonable replacement?

The 75ug dose of dexamethasone is higher than a normal physiological replacement of cortosol. Dexamethasone is long acting (24 hrs) versus (90 min)with cortisol, it is difficult to precisely compare doses as I don't know what dose of cortisol you were on before the change. Between 25 and 50ug of dexamethasone is roughly equivalent to 20mg of cortisol, so 75ug of dexamethasone would be equivalent to about 50mg of cortisol. This is a large dose and because of its long duration of action, it tends to be more likely to result in side effects of too much glucocorticoid. You may be feeling so well because you are getting a higher dose of glucocorticoid than normal. This seems good in the short run, but may not be good in the long run. I prefer not to use dexamethasone for replacement in Addison's disease.
I was recently diagnosed with Addison's and take 20mg Cortef daily, and also take 150mg Synthroid for
hypothyroidism. Can one take prescription Lortab with Cortef?

Lortab is a trade name for hydrocodone, a drug related to codiene. It's used to treat severe pain problems and is generally used for short periods of time because it can be addicting. It can cause dizziness and individuals with Addison's disease may be more susceptible to this, but I am not aware of any specific contraindications. Your pharmacist should be able to give you a printout for hydrocodone including the side effects and contraindications. It is not a drug that I would normally recommend, but your family doctor may have a specific reason to suggest it in your case. I was recently diagnosed with Addison's and take 20mg Cortef daily, and also take 150mg Synthroid for
hypothyroidism. Can one take prescription Lortab with Cortef?

Lortab is a trade name for hydrocodone, a drug related to codiene. It's used to treat severe pain problems and is generally used for short periods of time because it can be addicting. It can cause dizziness and individuals with Addison's disease may be more susceptible to this, but I am not aware of any specific contraindications. Your pharmacist should be able to give you a printout for hydrocodone including the side effects and contraindications. It is not a drug that I would normally recommend, but your family doctor may have a specific reason to suggest it in your case. Because I have Addison's, I have been doing some personal research regarding Addison's and the
adrenal glands. and have read of taking raw adrenal glad pills to rebuild the adrenal glands and taking
Tyrosine pills. Is this actually possible? Also, I'm on a new treatment with Andriol (testosterone pill),
which is supposed to raise my DHEA level. I started with three 40mg pills a day, but cut down to two
because my mind was racing at night. Can I expect some long-term side effect from this medicine, or
would I be better off taking DHEA pills instead. The Andriol does seem to help me heal more quickly.

If you have Addison's disease, it means that your adrenals have been damaged by some process, most commonly an autoimmune process in which antibodies destroy the gland. Other possibilities include infections or hemorrhage. In all of these situations, the gland cannot be "rebuilt". Taking pills containing adrenal tissue obtained from animals will not do anything to improve your own adrenal tissue. Tyrosine is an amino acid which is important, but is readily available in our usual diet. Taking extra will not affect adrenal function. The question regarding testosterone is less clear. Whether or not testosterone will help depends on what your basal testosterone level is. One thing that is clear, is that testosterone will not increase DHEA levels. In studies in which DHEA has been given to women, it will increase testosterone levels but DHEA in the usual doses does not have a significant effect on testosterone in men. Testosterone given to men who are truly testosterone deficient will improve protein and muscle development. Since it is so important to know what your hormone levels are before taking additional hormones, you should have some testing done by your endocrinologist.
Is Prednisone any different than Medrol on the ACTH suppression on the Pituitary, given the equivalent
doses, i.e. 6mg of medrol and 7.5mg of prednisone, or 30mg of hydrocortisone?

Medrol is the trade name for methyl prednisolone, it is a little more potent than prednisolone, but at appropriate doses, all three steroids have about the same pituitary suppression. Cortisol is a little shorter acting, so depending how frequently it is given, it may have slightly less suppression of the pituitary. Prednisone and methyl prednisolone are frequently used to treat inflammatory problems such as colitis or some kidney problems because they cause less salt retention and have more potent as anti inflammatory activity than cortisol. They tend to be used in larger doses in these situations and therefore can cause greater pituitary suppression.
I was diagnosed with Addison's disease in 1992. I have always been told that I shouldn't take anti-
inflammatory medication, can you tell me why? I am currently suffering from muscle spasms. I have been
prescribed Baclofen vs. an anti-inflammatory.

Anti inflammatory medications can cause stomach irritation and ulcers. These are the major side effects of non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs. People who are taking steroids such as prednisone for the treatment diseases such as arthritis, are more susceptible to these side effects. In Addison's disease the dose of glucocorticoid is physiological (within the normal range) rather than pharmacological (exceeds the normal range for treatment purposes) so the increased probability of stomach problems in quite low. In a situation where anti inflammatory medications are indicated it is important to be aware of possible side effects but I would not hesitate to use nonsteroidals. It is important to be sure that the drug is being used for the proper indications. This family of drugs is very helpful to treat inflammation, but is not likely to do much for cramping or spasms.
What is the difference between Prozac and Zoloft and which is better for Addisonians?

Prozac and Zoloft are similar but are not identical drugs. They both block the re-uptake of serotonin in the brain. I am not aware of any data proving one is better than the other in Addison's patients. Theoretically there should not be a difference. SALIVARY STEROIDS
How accurate is the salivary testing for steroids and is it available in Canada?

Measurement of salivary steroids has been used with some success, particularly by a group in Wales. It has not received much interest because it is difficult to standardize so I am not aware of any groups that are using this technique in Canada or the U.S. OTHER MEDICAL CONDITIONS
I have recently been diagnosed with Addison's disease, and experienced severe abdominal pain (and
inflammation), in the same spot, every day. Is this normal?

It is difficult to be specific about your question regarding abdominal pain. It is not usually a symptom of Addison's disease itself, but some individuals may also have gastrointestinal problems which are autoimmune, so they are seen with increased frequency in individuals with Addison's disease. It is important to find the cause of the abdominal pain since analgesics may mask the true cause of the problem. It is best to review this with your family doctor or endocrinologist. The location of the pain, the presence or absence of diarrhea and things that aggravate it or make it better, will all help them in determining what could be the cause
Lung Cancer
I had both of my adrenal glands removed due to the spread of lung cancer, which has been under control
for 3 years now. No chemo or treatments. I am now taking 75mg of cortisone a day and .01 of florinef. I
feel tired most of the time. Any small jobs I try to do really tires me. Is there any special tests I could have
done to correct my problem? My doctor says one thing and the endocrinologist says another while I
suffer with this problem.

I'm glad to hear your lung problem is under control. Unless there is something you haven't mentioned, a dosage of cortisone (75mg/day) is too much for adrenal replacement. Cortisone of that dose has a tendency to decrease muscle buildup and cause protein loss causing things like thinning of the skin and bruising. I don't know what you are hearing from your physicians, but they should be talking to each other and to you to explain their views.
What is the value of taking Pregnenolone? How does it compare to DHEA? Apparently it is not a
restricted drug in Canada. It this true? What is the connection with cholesterol?

The adrenal cholesterol is converted to pregnenolone and the pregnenolone is converted to DHEA. The machinery required to convert pregnenolone to DHEA is primarily located in the adrenal, the ovaries and testes and possibly in the brain. Pregnenolone is popular because it is not restricted and because it is a steroid but as far as I am aware it has no biological effects.
My 21 year old daughter and was diagnosed with Addison’s at the age of eight. During this time she has
keep in relatively good health but has had several bouts of herpes simplex virus in her eyes which left her
with badly scarred corneas leaving her with 7% left in the right eye and 33% in the left eye. She is to
receive a cornea transplant and could you tell me what or if any complications could arise from this?

This is a 21year old female - diagnosed with Addison's disease at age 8 and now has visual problems due to scarring of her corneas from viral infections. The diagnosis at age 8 raises the possibility that she may have a syndrome in which there can be autoimmune involvement of other hormone producing organs and a tendency to have candida (fungal) infections in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. It is unlikely that this would make her susceptible to the herpes virus infections, but it would be important to be sure there are no other associated problems before corneal surgery. The other autoimmune problems include hypothyroidism, hypoparathyroidism (problems with calcium), pernicious anemia (low hemoglobin), diabetes and vitiligo (patches on the skin with no normal pigment). If everything else is under control the corneal transplants should go well. DIABETES
My father was diagnosed with Addison's years ago and has also developed diabetes. He has been losing
weight since the diagnosis, but in the past couple of years, has dramatically dropped in weight to about
112lbs on a 5'8" frame. What can he eat that will help him gain but not effect his diabetes? Should he
increase his cortef/cortisol? He is under a great amount of stress right now, so I did not know if more
medication might regulate things better.

The combination of Addison's disease and diabetes presents two separate but interrelated problems. The Addison's disease should be treated with a combination of hydrocortisone (cortisol) and Florinef as in other situations. The lowest dose of cortisol that makes him feel well is the best dose although this may be a little hard to determine if his diabetes is not well controlled. First of all, he should be followed carefully by an endocrinologist. He should be on a standard dose of cortisol (eg 20mg AM, 5mg at noon and 5mg at 4PM) and Florinef depending on his blood pressure (eg 0.1mg). If he is losing weight while he is eating a reasonable diet, it is likely that his sugars are not well controlled and his diabetic medication may require adjusting. Since his weight is so low and he is still losing weight he probably requires insulin if he is not on it already. This is a complex situation so he must have these decisions supervised by his endocrinologist. My problem is that I am on 15mg of Cortef and go to the gym 4 times a week and walk over 10,000 steps a
day and am very careful what I eat because of my diabetes, but nothing is helping. I do all the exercise I
can do, but don't know what else to do.

Being careful about what you eat does not mean that you are eating the number of calories that you require to lose weight. There are genetic factors that influence body weight so that the number of calories eaten by one person may result in weight gain while another person eating the same number of calories may actually lost weight. You have to cut back on your intake and increase your activity to find what works for you. As you cut back on your food, your blood sugars will come down so you will have to make adjustments. FUNGAL INFECTIONS
I have been told by my family physician that because I take replacement cortisone, I am much more
susceptible to fungal infections and that this is one things that we as Addisonians must be very careful

People taking cortisone or prednisone for reasons other than Addison's Disease are usually on high doses. This can cause high blood sugars in some individuals and this will predispose them to fungus infections. Individuals on physiological doses should not be more susceptible. There is a childhood form of autoimmune endocrine disease that is associated with "systemic candidiasis". This is a fungus infection that can involve the gastrointestinal tract. This does not occur in adult onset Addison's disease.
I have had Hashimotos thyroiditus now for 8 years, and have only been able to get treatment in the past
three with Armour thyroid. I have had a lot of trouble getting the dose right, with many periods of hypo. I
increased to as much as 6 grains a day and was still hypo. My doctor thought I was probably suffering
from thyroid hormone resistance. However, with hormone resistance, the TSH should not be suppressed,
and mine was. I did some research on the internet and discovered that my adrenal glands could possibly
be insufficient, so I ordered a 24 hour urine test (4X/day) and sure enough, my levels for all 4 were from 0-
4 on a range to 20 I believe. I stopped taking thyroid and took only cortef for about 2 weeks, increasing
the dose until I felt better. When I started on Armour again, I found I was much better able to tolerate it,
with improvement in symptoms that nagged me for years (hair very brittle, severe hair loss, cystic acne,
severe dry skin on legs and hands, name a few). My question is this, I felt better on a dose
of 25 - 35mg cortef a day. Then the pharmacy put 10mg tabs in a bottle labeled 5mg. and I took approx
60mg cortef a day for a week before I noticed. I actually felt better, lost weight, hair improved and so
forth. I lowered it immediately upon discover to 40mg a day (by the way, I divide my dose 3x/day). I

would like to get it lower and then stop eventually when my adrenals appeared to have healed sufficiently.
Are these doses all together too high? I have not been diagnosed with Addison’s, yet find I'm taking as
much or more cortef than those who have. It scares me a little. Also, when I go to have another 24 hour
urine test for adrenals, should I take my dose of cortef that day or hold off? Lastly, how can I know it's
time to begin to decrease my dosage?

You have posed some interesting but difficult questions. Both your thyroid situation and the adrenal problem are not straight forward. You should be discussing these questions and lab results with your endocrinologist. There are several types of thyroid resistance so even with a suppressed TSH, it would still be a possibility. The Armour thyroid medication contains more T3 than T4 so the blood results can be difficult to interpret if this is not taken into consideration. I am not sure how to interpret you urine cortisol results. If you are going to do more urine cortisol tests you will have to be off medication for at least 48 hrs before starting collection. This is a complex series of problems which needs the expertise of an experienced endocrinologist.
I was diagnosed with Addison's when I was 12 years old. I am now 46. I have been taking Cortef 10mg TID
and Florinef 0.1mg "OD" since I was 20. Two years ago I started to show signs of peri-menopause. I
recently found a book stating a "normal" person would produce extra hormones from the adrenal glands
since the ovaries decrease production while going through menapause. My question is how much extra
Cortef should I be taking? I have also been having problems with increased BP, is this related to the

The comment that you heard stating that the adrenal increases its hormone output after menopause is not correct. At menopause, the ovary stops producing estrogen but continues to produce androgens for 1 to 2 years. The adrenal continues with its usual hormone output of cortisol, aldosterone and some weak androgens (DHEA and androstenedione). These weak androgens can be converted to estrogens in fat tissue. The conversion is small -- about 1%, and this contributes to the estrogen production after the menopause. No change in your cortisol dosage is required. The dose of cortisol that you are on is already at the high end of the usual cortisol replacement. GLAUCOMA
What is the relationship between glaucoma and cortisone treatment?

Glaucoma is a process in which there is an increased pressure inside of the eye and the chances of this increase with age. Patients who are taking normal amounts of cortisone for replacement therapy, such as patients with Addison's disease should not have an increased incidence of glaucoma although they would have the same incidence as is found in the general population. OSTEOPOROSIS
I have read that the hormone parathyroid has an effect on bone density. Is it true that those with evidence
of osteoporosis may find that the reason for this may not lie in the fact that they are long-term steroid
users as much as the fact that it may be the parathyroid hormone? Is there any validity to this way of

There is validity to the possible role of parathyroid hormone in certain types of osteoporosis. Parathyroid hormone is responsible for maintaining blood calcium levels with a narrow range. In cases of calcium deficiency (low intake) or loss of calcium in the urine, parathyroid hormone draws calcium from bone to maintain blood calcium. With adenomas of the parathyroid there is excess parathyroid hormone secreted and this draws calcium from, bone and excretes it in the urine. We encourage individuals to take in 1000mg of Calcium in their diet to deposit calcium in bone and keep the parathyroid levels low to avoid calcium removal from bone. Parathyroid adenomas are uncommon and frequently present with kidney stones. They are a possible cause of osteoporosis in rare situations. I have read that there is a new drug soon to be available in the U.S. for osteoporosis. It is called Forteo. I
understand it is a synthetic version of the parathyroid hormone and a recent study reported in the NEJ of
Medicine cited a study of 1637 postmenopausal women. In this study the bone density had been
replenished to the point where treatment could be discontinued. Gains in bone strength occurred in just 3
months of treatment. I understand as well that so far, this is in the form of self-injected daily shots just

under the skin but oral and inhaled versions of it are now under study and may soon be available as well.
My thoughts at first are that this is "too good to be true" and like my Daddy always said - it is seems too
good to be true, it probably is! However, I would like your thoughts on this new drug or any side effects
that were not listed etc. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

There are currently studies underway with the subcutaneous injectible form of this hormone and results are promising. Bone remodeling is a relatively slow process
I have been taking 10mg hydrocortisone for the last 6 years. Lately I have developed ostopenia and feel it
may be because of the hydrocortisone. Could this be possible and if so, can you suggest any herbal

It is always reasonable to ask whether medication that we are taking could be responsible for new problems that come up. I am assuming that you have been diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency and that is why you are taking the hydrocortisone. The adrenal insufficiency can be primary, due to a problem in the adrenal glands, or secondary, due to a problem in the pituitary gland. If the problem is in the adrenal gland, the dose of hydrocortisone (10mg) that you are on, is a relatively low dose and is unlikely to be a factor in your osteopenia. If the problem is in the pituitary, the dose of hydrocortisone is still relatively low and should not cause osteopenia, but there may be other pituitary problems that could contribute to the situation. If you have adrenal insufficiency there are no herbal mediations that you can take that will replace the hydrocortisone. Osteopenia is common in the general population and can be due to multiple factors including diet, activity, age, exposure to the sun (vitamin D) and smoking. The dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D are particularly important. It would be a good idea to review these factors with your family doctor or endocrinologist. PANCREATITIS
What is the relationship between Pancreatitis and Addison's disease.

Pancreatitis is usually caused by some blockage of the duct draining the pancreas, such as a gallstone or less commonly with increased triglycerides in the blood, which can interfere with the out flow from the pancreas resulting in inflammation. There are other causes of Pancreatitis, but in someone who is not excessively overweight and who is not ingesting excessive amounts of alcohol, these would be the most common causes. Patients with Addison's disease are no more likely to have these problems than the general population. TUBERCULOSIS
If somebody with Addison's disease tests positive for TB with the skin test but the chest x-rays are clear.
What does he recommend? Regular x-rays? Treatment with TB antibiotics? Watch for symptoms and
follow-up then?

The problem of a positive TB skin test in a patient with Addison's disease is interesting. If this patient is an adult; we may assume that the Addison's disease was caused by tuberculosis involving the adrenal glands. This is not necessarily true since someone with Addison's disease can get TB just like anyone else. The fact that this person's chest x-ray is negative suggests that they were exposed to the tubercle bacillus but overcame the infection without developing a chest lesion. Another possibility is that they were immunized with B.C.G., which gives a positive skin test but no infection. If the Addison's disease is due to the TB, they must have had the infection for quite a while. We will often give anti TB drugs to new Addisonian patients when we start cortisone (or prednisone) if they have a chest lesion since the cortisone can allow reactivation of the disease. With a clear chest x-ray I would follow with regular chest x-rays. If someone has had a negative skin test and is positive on a follow up skin test; it suggests recent exposure and advice should be sought regarding a course of treatment.
I recently found out that I am pregnant! Do I need to make adjustments in my cortisol or Florinef during

Generally, no. There may need to be adjustments as the pregnancy progresses. This will depend on any symptoms that develop during the pregnancy. However you will need extra cortisol during the delivery.
I have a pregnant patient who has been very symptomatic with low blood pressure (weak, tired feeling,
dizzy, unable to work, etc.) Cortisol studies have been normal. Would she benefit from treatment with
Florinef? Is there harm in using this?

There are several changes in adrenal function occurring during normal pregnancy that make tests difficult to interpret. Measurement of urinary free cortisol during pregnancy usually results in levels which are about twice the normal values. This suggests that cortisol secretion increases during normal pregnancy. Progesterone levels rise dramatically during pregnancy and progesterone has interesting effects on both cortisol and aldosterone. First of all it binds to corticosteriod binding globulin (CBG) and displaces cortisol at the same time that estrogen is increasing CBG, so measurement of cortisol in pregnancy is difficult to interpret. Secondly, progesterone blocks some of the mineralocorticoid effects of aldosterone so during pregnancy, aldosterone production increases dramatically. The usual recommendation is to carry on with the usual doses of glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid during pregnancy but with the physiological changes going on, it is often necessary to make some adjustments. This is particularly relevant if nausea and gastrointestinal problems complicate the situation. The dose of cortisol can be increased stepwise by 5 or 10 mg. to see if it relieves some of the symptoms. The placenta converts cortisol to inactive cortisone so the foetus is protected and will not be affected by these changes. It sounds as if your patient has not required mineralocorticoid replacement prior to the pregnancy. If she is experiencing hypotension, she would probably benefit from Florinef. Measuring electrolytes in the plasma is usually not helpful because these levels only change when things are more advanced. Most individuals with Addison's disease do well during pregnancy on cortisol and fludrocortisone (Florinef) and I am not aware of any concerns with Florinef during pregnancy.

Recent studies have related higher IGF-1 levels with increased risk of prostate cancer. Is this a concern
for men taking 25 mg or 50 mg of DHEA supplementation and is it advisable that IGF-1 levels be
monitored? I've read some studies that say there is no relationship between high readings of IGF-1 and
prostate cancer, too.

The letter from the gentleman in BC raises an interesting question. There is some evidence that an increase in IGF-1 levels above normal is associated with an increase in certain types of concern - specifically, colon cancer. This is seen in acromegaly (a growth hormone secreting pituitary tumor) where IGF-1 levels are above normal. IGF-1 levels are increased by the administration of growth hormone, testosterone and DHEA. The IGF-1 rise with DHEA and testosterone is modest and the levels remain within the normal range. There is no evidence that DHEA or testosterone cause prostate cancer. In men in the post-50 age group, a prostate specific antigen (PSA) level should be measured before starting testosterone or DHEA to be certain they do not have a prostate problem before the DHEA is started.
I've had Addison's for 6 years now and feel very fatigued most of the time. I'm on a diuretic to lower my
blood pressure and I'm consuming huge amounts of salt. I've just switched to Himalayan Salt, which is
supposed to be natural and not as harmful as normal table salt. I often feel better after consuming the
salt. Is something out of whack with my electrolytes? What tests would answer this question?

One of the problems with Addison's disease, is that there is a deficiency of Aldostrone, the hormone that regulates sodium (salt) retention by the kidney. When a diuretic is added in the treatment of high blood pressure, there is additional loss of salt, making it difficult to maintain normal sodium levels in the blood. If sodium levels get low, it can lead to an increased desire to eat more salt. This helps compensate to some degree. Salt is sodium chloride, and is from natural sources. In Canada, it is mined and purified and iodine is added. The iodine is added because the soil in most of Canada is iodine deficient because it is remote from the sea. We need the iodine to make thyroid hormone. Sea salt has iodine in it naturally. I am not sure what additional things might be in salt from the Himalayas. The important component is the sodium chloride which would be the same no matter where the salt came from. The way to assess the status of sodium levels is first to check sodium levels in the blood. These are usually normal, unless there is a severe deficiency. The more sensitive assay is the plasma renin. This would be high if there is sodium deficiency. The renin comes from the kidney and is released in response to a lowering of kidney blood flow. This is relatively easy to measure and this can be arranged by your family doctor or endocrinologist. In general, high blood pressure is more readily treated using a calcium channel blocker such as verapamil rather than a diuretic, because it avoids the problems with salt loss.
Do we Addisonians need to eat more salt than normal?

No - if you are on an appropriate amount of Florinef, a drug with salt retention features, then the salt in a normal diet should be enough. The exception is on hot summer days when you are sweating and losing fluids, you may wish to increase your salt a bit

In secondary Addison’s, do they replace the ACTH hormone as well as the cortisone therapy?

No, the effect of ACTH is to stimulate the adrenal to make cortisol. Since we are replacing the cortisol, there is theoretically no need for ACTH. To replace ACTH, we would have to inject it either many times per day or daily, depending on the preparation. The tablet approach is felt to be more convenient and more effective.
I was diagnosed with Addison's in May 2006. I am on hydrocortisone, florinef and also synthroid as my
thyroid stopped functioning as well as the adrenals. I had ovarian failure almost 20 years ago. Is it
normal to wake up in early, around 3:30 - 4am and not be able to fall back to sleep for the rest of the
night? This happens frequently since we returned from a trip to Europe in August. I have taken
melatonin for a few weeks and it helped somewhat (I'm no longer taking it), but I now wake up at 5am
feeling anxious and worried. I take my hydrocortisone early morning (and synthroid), noon and at supper

The sleep problem is an interesting one and there may be several factors. I am assuming that your sleep pattern was satisfactory before your trip to Europe in August. If that is correct, there would have been a 5hr shift in your body's sleep/wake cycle so that your brain was preparing you to wake up at a new time. When you came home, your body readjusted and this usually takes about a week, depending on how long you were away. This should have sorted itself out by now, but may have been a factor in causing the change. Some individuals on steroid hormones (hydrocortisone, prednisone) have trouble sleeping and this can be helped by the timing of your hydrocortisone medication. You are taking your medication three times a day and this is ideal. By moving the lunch and dinner doses a little earlier, say at 11am and 4pm you may find that this will help with your sleep pattern. You should also review the dose of hydrocortisone because if it is higher than is necessary, this can affect your sleep pattern.

My 16-year-old son is a very good hockey player, but was recently diagnosed with Addison’s disease. He
is on replacement with cortisol 30mg daily and Florinef 0.1mg daily. What should he do about his
medication when he is playing hockey?

Playing hockey requires extreme energy and response to stress, and there is loss of salt, water and fluid during the game. Players will need extra cortisol (1/2 to 1 tablet), extra salt and water (eg. Gatorade) and possibly an extra ½ tablet of Florinef to help retain the salt.
Can lowering your Prednisone and/or Fludrocortisone affect your thyroid levels?

There should not be any effect of changing the dose of these steroids on thyroid levels as long as the doses are in or close to the normal range
Should we take over-the-counter medications that state on the box that they should not be taken if the
patient has a thyroid problem.

A manufacturer is obliged to put this warning on the boxes because most of the drugs for allergies or cold remedies contain some type of adrenalin-like compound. If a patient has hyperthyroidism, the combination of excessive amounts of thyroxine plus the adrenalin-like compounds can cause stimulation of the heart. If a person is taking a normal amount of thyroid hormone, there should be no problem in using any of these medications.
I am 42, and have had Addison's disease since I was 16. In the past, I've been treated for food poisoning
and other illnesses with a solu-cortef and saline solution. I am soon going to cross the Atlantic with 5
others aboard a 65' sailboat. Would this venture be too risky if I get seasick and my body cannot absorb
the cortef? I plan to take injectible Solu-Cortef with me.

A trans-Atlantic trip on a 65' sailboat sounds very exciting. I assume that all of you are experienced sailors
and are well prepared for the trip. The fact that you have Addison's disease adds an extra concern, but if
you are well prepared you should be able to handle it without too much of a problem. As you know, you
should have the Solu-Cortef emergency kits available and each of the members of the crew should be
aware of your situation and able to do the injection for you. The Acto-vials come in boxes of 10. I think
you should have a box and at least 10 syringes and needles with you. If you should get sick and can't
keep your pills down, you will need one and possibly two injections a day depending on the situation. It
would also be a good idea to have some drinks along which contain salt, such as Gatoraid.
My husband and I have decided to take a trip to France which would involve a 6-hour time difference
(later). What should I do about my medication?

Maintain the relationship between your medication and the current time of day. So, take your pills before
you leave at the usual time and when you reach your destination take your pills at the same time of day
as you did at home. Going eastward, this will increase your overall medication levels slightly but put you
quickly onto the correct schedule. Coming home you will gain 6 hours, so you may need some extra
cortisol. Take an extra ½ tablet if you feel that you need it.
I've had Addison's for about 20 years. I will be going to Quito, Ecuador next month. The elevation is quite
high - around 9200 feet. Do I need to be concerned about altitude illness? I do have a tendency to be

High altitude should not be any more of a problem for someone with Addison's disease than the general
population. With the altitude you will get short of breath more easily with exertion due to the fact that the
oxygen pressure is less. This is true for everyone. The weather will be warmer, so you will have to be
sure you get enough salt in your diet (you may need to add extra). If you are having episodes of light
headedness now, you should get your family doctor to check your plasma renin. This is a test to see if
you are getting the right amount of Florinef and enough salt. If this is not correct, you may be more
susceptible to more light headedness (due to a fall in blood pressure) in hot weather. Addison's disease
should not interfere with your trip.
What can an Addison patient do about jet lag when travelling across time zones, e.g. a five-hour
difference? The person in question was really ill for five days with flu like symptoms.

When crossing time zones, replacement therapy should be quite simply managed: I advise my patients that they should take their normal doses during the day prior to setting out for a flight. If they are taking 20 milligrams of hydrocortisone on waking as their normal replacement dose, I would then suggest that they take 10 milligrams of hydrocortisone each 6 hours until they reach their destination when they should resume their normal pattern on hydrocortisone replacement according to clock time. If they are on less than this dose in the morning, they should take their normal morning dose 6 hourly in the same way. Fluodrocortisone should simply be taken according to clock time. MEXICO
I will be travelling to Mexico shortly. Should I have a letter from my physician to explain at customs why I
have to take my medication or is a MedicAlert bracelet sufficient? What should the letter state?

When you are travelling it is always a good idea to have a letter from your doctor which states your diagnosis and the medications that you are on. The pills should be in the bottles that you got from the pharmacy so that they are clearly labeled. When travelling to a place where it may not be easy to get to a doctor, it is a good idea to carry an emergency kit containing solu-cortef and a syringe and needle for injection. This should be clearly labeled. If you are not familiar with the emergency kit, you can get a description from the web site and take it to your doctor.
We required Yellow Fever vaccination for a cruise stop in Columbia, and the doctor would not give me
one. I gather that they will not be given to anyone who takes over 10mg of corticosteroids a day. The
vaccine is live and complications could result if given. We were told that a waiver would be needed for
each trip taken. Is this correct?

This person has raised an interesting question regarding yellow fever vaccination in individuals with Addison's disease. She has stated that her doctor would not give the vaccine to anyone taking over 10mg of corticosteroids per day. I am assuming that this means 10mg of prednisone per day. This would be equivalent to 40mg of cortisol or 50mg of cortisone per day, and this is a slightly higher dose than is normally used for replacement in individuals with adrenal insufficiency. Levels of corticosteroids that are higher than physiological (normal) can suppress the immune system, and can either decrease the antibody response to the vaccine so that the individual will not be protected or can increase the possibility of a reaction to the vaccination. For a full discussion regarding yellow fever vaccination, you can review the Centre for Disease Control web site at Centre for Disease Control.The vaccine is apparently administered at specific approved sites where the physician should have the correct information.
I was diagnosed with Addison’s about a year ago and have noticed a considerable weight gain after my
initial crisis in hospital. I was taking prednisone until recently, changing to hydrocortisone and florinef
about 2 weeks ago. This change has made a big difference and I feel a lot better, but will still need to
settle on a dose that will keep me stable throughout my day. However, my weight gain seems to continue
to creep up and my face looks rather puffy. I try to exercise regularly and keep an eye on my diet. If you
have any suggestions or comments, I would appreciate it.

The question relates to the dose of glucocorticoid (prednisone or hydrocortisone) replacement. Weight gain and a puffy face are usually symptoms of too much prednisone or hydrocortisone. The dose of hydrocortisone required may vary from 20 to 40mg per day. It should be spread throughout the day. e.g. 20mg hydrocortisone first thing in the morning, 5mg at lunch and 5mg in the afternoon, or 10mg in the morning, 5mg at lunch and 5mg in the afternoon. The lowest dose that keeps you feeling well is the best for you. I was diagnosed with Addison's in 1995. At that time, my weight was 158lbs., now I'm at 236lbs. I have
also been diagnosed with osteoarthritis and find it very difficult to walk. I have joined an aquasize class,
but it makes me so tired. Should I be taking extra medication before class and is it normal for my skin to
be really dry?

Individuals with Addison's disease do not necessarily gain excess weight when they are on an appropriate dose of cortisol. You did not say what dose of glucocorticoid you are on, but it should be reviewed with your endocrinologist. If you are gaining weight it could be a combination of a) too much glucocorticoid (cortisol, prednisone), b) too many calories and c) not enough activity. I would not suggest that you take extra medication before a normal exercise workout; your normal dose should be enough. Dry skin is not generally a symptom of Addison's disease, and may be a non specific problem. It can be a symptom of an under active thyroid which occurs in about half of the patients with Addison's disease, so this would be worth checking. My 16yr old daughter was diagnosed with Addison's disease in January after having an Addisonian crisis.
She lost a lot of weight at that time but has since gained it back, plus more. Is her body falsely telling her
to eat, or is it a side affect of the Cortef, Florinef and Synthroid (for her hypothyroidism)?

When treatment was started, your daughter would have felt better and regained the weight she lost as she was getting ill. Her weight should level out if the dose of cortisol is appropriate. The commonest cause of excessive weight is being on too much glucocorticoid replacement (cortisone, cortisol, prednisone). The lowest dose that makes her feel well is the right dose. This can be as low as 15mg of cortisol a day. The florinef and thyroid are unlikely to be a significant factor in excessive weight gain. Can I expect weight gain with this disease? I was diagnosed 3 months ago and I am on 15mg of cortef a
day and feel pretty good. It has not happened yet, but can I expect it down the road?

Addison's disease is due to a deficiency of adrenal steroid hormones. The treatment is replacement of these missing hormones with hydrocortisone (Cortef) and a mineralocorticoid (Fludrocortisone). If the dose of cortef is appropriate, there should not be a sufficient weight gain. Some people gain weight after being treated because they have lost weight prior to being diagnosed, or because their appetite has improved after being treated. If there is any excessive gain in weight it is most likely due to being on too much hormone. The dose of cortef mentioned is 15mg daily and this is a dose unlikely to cause weight gain. I have just come off of a high dosage of Prednisone as I suffer from minimal change (Nephrotic
Syndrome). I have gained 2st. As I am off the steroids, will the weight come back down again?

I am making two assumptions in answering your question. First, that you do not have Adrenal insufficiency in addition to your Nephrotic Syndrome and second, that 2st means 2 stone which is equal to 28lbs. If you have been able to get off the Prednisone completely, then your weight should return to normal with time. How long it will take to get back to your pretreatment level depends on how long you were on the Prednisone. In general, things do return to normal. Why do some people with adrenal insufficiency have weight problems when they are treated with
cortisone, while others seem not to have the same difficulty?

The cortisone replacement is designed to return your hormone levels to normal. It is very important that the amount of cortisone replacement is not excessive or it can lead to some weight difficulties. In the past, we have tended to use cortisone or prednisone doses which may be a little more than are actually needed. In general, patients can get along with either 25 or 37.5 mgs, of cortisone daily or 5 or 7.5 mgs. of prednisone. It’s important to balance this with fludrocortisone. We tend to look at ACTH levels and renin levels as a guide to the dose of each of these medications. Once the cortisone and florinef replacement has been appropriately balanced, then activities as well as food intake are both important in maintaining appropriate weight.
Question regarding weight problems, and raises the question as to whether or not the thyroid is
important in this area. This questioner also asks about the role of DDAVP.

Since the primary cause of adrenal insufficiency is autoimmune and the primary cause of hypothyroidism is also autoimmune a large proportion of patients with adrenal insufficiency are also on thyroid replacement. The amount of thyroid is titrated to obtain normal levels of TSH and once this has been achieved the patient is generally normal from a thyroid standpoint. In general, if their cortisone, fludrocortisone and thyroxine are at optimum levels, they should be able to maintain their weight as in a normal situation. DDAVP is a hormone that acts on the kidney to control water output and really does not play a role in weight gain or weight loss under normal circumstances.
I am struggling, trying to keep my weight down as I am also diabetic and just starting on insulin. I keep
gaining weight. I am on Cortef. What can I do?

I'm assuming you are on Cortef because you have Addison's disease. If you are gaining weight, there are
a variety of possibilities. 1. You are on more cortisol than you need, 2. You are not as active as you
should be, 3. You are taking in too many calories. The easiest of these possibilities is the dose
requirement for cortisol is variable from one person to another usually between 15 and 30mg per day.
The lowest dose that keeps you feeling well is the best for you. Too much cortisol will also make your
blood sugar more difficult to control so it is worthwhile taking a careful look at it.


I am not sure if I have Addison's or if I am heading in that direction. I have had two cortisol saliva tests
and both came back below normal limits on 6am and 12 midnight levels. I feel like I have a bad hangover
most of the time and moderate depression (I am a non drinker) but start to feel better after 6pm every day.
If not early stages of Addison's then what else could this be? I have tried many herbal remedies and
glandulars which worked for a short time then stop working after a few days. My doctor put me on very
low dose cortef but I felt worse after taking it.

The symptoms you have described are quite non specific and could be associated with a variety of problems. None of the labs in this area measure salivary cortisol so I am not sure how accurate the values are that you have had. If they are done well, they are very good. The most satisfactory way to diagnose adrenal insufficiency is to measure cortisol and ACTH levels. In Addison's disease, the problem is in the adrenal gland and ACTH levels will be high in attempting to make the adrenal work harder. If the problem is in the pituitary gland, both cortisol and ACTH will be low. If you are taking cortisol, the tests will be difficult or impossible to interpret. You should discuss the situation with an endocrinologist who can assess both your symptoms and your physical examination and help to suggest futher lab work or suggest other possible causes for your symptoms. Does Addison's disease hit all at once, or does it come on slowly? I've had off and on "symptoms" for 4
years, unexplained weight loss, diarrhea, sometimes uncontrollable body tremors/shakes and chills with
body temp drops sometimes almost down to 96F, often some degree of weakness and lethargy, no libido
and little energy. Doctors have said I'm "depressed" or that it's just IBS, but, after also starting to
occasionally get severe stabbing pains in my upper back that last long enough to make me lose my
breath and scream, I'm starting to wonder. I have no odd skin discolouration, but does that necessarily
come with the disease? I know it's rare, and I did know someone who unfortunately died from
complications very shortly after her diagnosis. I've been very worried lately - should I be?

Addison's disease usually comes on gradually over several years. Once the adrenal damage reaches a critical stage, individuals can become ill quite quickly. Weight loss is a common symptom, but diarrhea, chills and back pain are not usually associated with Addison's disease. Skin pigmentation is a common feature but may not be obvious in some situations. If there is a family history of Addison's disease or other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disease or diabetes, or if you are worried about this problem, you should talk to your family doctor. The best test to rule out the diagnosis is a serum ACTH. The ACTH goes up as the adrenal is starting to fail because of damage by antibodies and is elevated when serum cortisol and other tests are normal. I am a 48 year old female, with minimal ACTH, low TSH, low IGF 1 reading, and also low cortisol. I am
taking 5mg prednisone and .1mg synthroid. I have nasty hot flashes and no libido, and have been on
Andriol for one month, with no change. I use progesterone cream for 20 days/month. My last period was
60 days ago. An MRI discovered two small 2mm growths on my pituitary, my doctor said these were not
significant. I feel awful, fatigued, dizzy, painful moving around and body aches (fibromyalgia). My night
and day are completely reversed. I also have celiac disease; antibody test ANA was negative. What else
can I be doing to fix my health? I really need to get back to work.

Because you are on prednisone and thyroxine, you must have been diagnosed sometime in the past with underactivity of your adrenal and thyroid glands. You are also having hot flashes suggesting that your ovarian function is underactive either due to a normal menopause (age 48) or less likely, an early menopause as part of an autoimmune process involving the ovaries, thyroid and adrenals. The celiac disease could also be part of this autoimmune process. The ACTH and TSH levels depend on when they were taken. If they were taken before starting prednisone and thyroxine, it would suggest a pituitary problem. If they were taken while on medication, it may be the normal response to the medication. Small nonfunctioning adenomas can be seen on MRI of the pituitary and may be of no significance, but it is important to know the clinical situation in which they are found to rule out a functioning adenoma. The situation that is presented is a complex one that requires a detailed discussion with an endocrinologist to explain what is known in this case and what additional investigation may be needed to resolve any unexplained findings. It would be important to talk to your family doctor to arrange such an appointment if you do not already have an endocrinologist. A question was asked about the use of a scan called MP59 or NP59 to detect adrenal tissue that may have
been missed during surgery.

I have not heard of these particular code words and it would depend on what type of equipment is being used. The most common scan used to detect adrenal tissue that has escaped surgery is an iodocholesterol scan. This has radioactive cholesterol, which is taken up by tissues that are using cholesterol to make cortisone and this can be detected provided the area of uptake is large enough. If you can find some more information about MP59 or NP59, I would be more than happy to try to check it out for you. Is congenital adrenal hypoplasia (CAH) the same as Addison’s Disease?
CAH is an uncommon problem in the development of the adrenal due to an abnormality on the X chromosome. It presents either at birth or shortly after with salt loss and failure to thrive. After several years of being treated for Addison’s Disease, one of the CAS members was told by a
specialist that it may be Simmonds’ Disease. What is that?

Simmonds disease is secondary adrenal insufficiency. This means that the adrenal problem is due to a lack of ACTH from the pituitary rather than a problem in the adrenal gland itself. I have seen many specialists over the past 2 1/2 years struggling with some type of endocrine disorder. I
am taking florinef and midodrine to elevate my blood pressure. At this time I have been concerned with
Addison's disease because of my symptoms. I have Celiac disease which is rampant on my maternal side
of the family, and my cousin has confirmed diagnosis of Addison's disease. My question is this: I have
undergone the insulin tolerance test and did not have a significant enough rise in cortisol level, nor did it
reach a high enough number, yet the doctors are left baffled. I have passed the synacthen test (ACHT
stimulation test) five or six times. How can this be? No one has been able to explain to me why the
different results? Any information someone can provide would be helpful.

You have a family history of Addison's disease and Celia disease which makes you statistically more likely to develop an autoimmune disorder, than those in the general population, but it does not mean that you will develop one of these problems. The investigation as I understand it has shown a subnormal response to insulin induced hypoglycemia but normal responses to ACTH stimulation. The first question is to find out what your morning level of cortisol was. If it was over 300 nmol/l, the probability of adrenal insufficiency would be low. The next question would be to check and be sure that your blood sugar fell to a low enough level to cause ACTH stimulation (it should go down to about 2.5nmol/l). If there was a low fasting cortisol with a subnormal response to insulin, but the response to ACTH stimulation is normal, your endocrinologist would be looking at a possible pituitary cause for your low cortisol. Since I don't know your whole story, there may be other factors accounting for your symptoms. It is important for you to discuss your concerns with your endocrinologist so you can get her response to your questions.


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