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Adrenal Crisis Symptoms

author image Adam Cloe Ph.D./M.D.
Adam Cloe has been published in various scientific journals, including the "Journal of Biochemistry." He is currently a pathology resident at the University of Chicago. Cloe holds a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry from Boston University, a M.D. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Chicago.
Adrenal Crisis Symptoms
A girl is being examined by a doctor. Photo Credit: Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images

Addison's disease is a condition marked by a lack of production of hormones--including cortisol--by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is a hormone which helps modulate the body's stress response. An acute adrenal crisis, also known as an Addisonian crisis, is caused by stress being placed on a cortisol-deficient body, resulting in a severe and life-threatening syndrome.

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One of the earliest symptoms of an adrenal crisis is pain which can appear in the back, the flanks, the abdomen and the legs, explains the Pituitary Network Association. This pain comes on suddenly, and is often described as penetrating and severe. Patients suffering from an adrenal crisis may also feel joint pain.


Adrenal crisis can also lead to severe nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, notes MedlinePlus. Patients may also have no appetite, and can experience sudden and unexpected weight loss.


An Addisonian crisis also affects the skin, states the University of Maryland Medical Center. Patients can develop a rash or sores on portions of the skin during an Addisonian crisis. An adrenal crisis can also lead to excessive sweating, particularly of the face and hands. Unusual darkening of the skin is another symptom of an adrenal crisis.


A number of symptoms of an adrenal crisis can affect the entire body. This includes a high fever and dehydration. The dehydration can cause a dangerous drop in blood volume, leading to severely low blood pressure. This can cause patients to go into hypovolemic shock, which results in rapid and shallow breathing combined with an extremely fast but weak heart rate. An adrenal crisis can also result in a general feeling of fatigue and shaking chills.


The nervous system is also affected by an adrenal crisis. Patients can feel dizzy or light-headed during an adrenal crisis, or they may become confused. Slow and uncoordinated movements may also result. If untreated, patients experiencing an adrenal crisis may lose consciousness, fall into a coma or die.

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