What Are the Symptoms of Adrenal Insufficiency?

In the early stages, you might not notice the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency because they’re often subtle. Your child might have these symptoms:

  • Feeling tired more often than usual (fatigue)
  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Muscle aches
  • Feeling light-headed
  • Darkening of the skin, often most noticeable on the gums, over the knuckles or in the lines of the hands

What Causes Adrenal Insufficiency?

There are many causes of adrenal insufficiency, which can be divided into 2 categories. These categories are primary adrenal insufficiency and central adrenal insufficiency.

Primary adrenal insufficiency is when the adrenal glands do not work the way they should. Causes of primary adrenal insufficiency include:

  • Genetic causes

  • Autoimmune diseases or disorders that affect the adrenal glands

  • Serious infections of the adrenal glands

  • Having surgery to remove the adrenal glands

Central adrenal insufficiency is when the pituitary gland (a small gland underneath the brain that controls other glands) does not make enough adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is a hormone that helps control how much cortisol your adrenal glands release. Causes of central adrenal insufficiency include:

  • When the pituitary gland does not develop properly

  • Injury to the pituitary gland, like trauma or radiation

  • Tumors or other growths near the pituitary gland

  • Having surgery to remove the pituitary gland

  • Long-term use of high-dose glucocorticoid medications, like dexamethasone, prednisone, prednisolone or certain inhaled glucocorticoids

What is Adrenal Crisis?

Adrenal crisis is a life-threatening condition when your child’s blood sugar and blood pressure are too low and his or her salt levels are off-balance. Contact your doctor right away if he or she shows these signs and symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Might look pale
  • Might be confused
  • Might be drowsy or difficult to arouse

Learn More