Addison's crisis


If the pituitary gland fails, the adrenal glands may also fail. As a result, no cortisol is produced and a life-threatening Addison's crisis may occur.

On this page we discuss the complaints of a cortisol deficiency and the complaints if the cortisol deficiency becomes life-threatening.


An Addison's crisis occurs when too little cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex. This may be the result of a failing pituitary gland that must control the adrenal cortex.
The pituitary gland not only produces various hormones but also controls hormone-producing glands, such as the adrenal glands.

The most common problem with the pituitary gland occurs when a benign growth develops (often referred to as an adenoma or
craniopharyngioma). Malignant tumors can occur but are rarer.

Injuries caused by traumatic brain injury, pituitary inflammation or a pituitary infarction in the pituitary gland are also rare.


In a healthy body, the hypothalamus secretes the hormone corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) after a stressful event, which in turn causes the anterior part of the pituitary gland to secrete adreno-corticotropic hormone (ACTH /corticotropin).
This substance then causes the adrenal glands to produce glucocorticoids, such as cortisol. Cortisol is an important stress hormone that enables humans to cope with mental stress, but also to help the body with fever and illness. It regulates blood pressure and inflammatory activity.

If the pituitary gland is unable to control the adrenal cortex, a cortisol deficiency may occur. The treatment consists of tablets containing it
adrenocortical hormone hydrocortisone.
People with a pituitary disorder are therefore under the supervision of a doctor who specializes in hormones, the endocrinologist, for their adrenal cortex hormone medication (hydrocortisone) and to take or inject extra hydrocortisone in stressful or unexpected circumstances.


Cortisol deficiency

Symptoms of a cortisol deficiency may resemble an Addison's crisis, but an Addison's crisis is much more serious. Symptoms do not have to occur in everyone.

  • severe fatigue and weakness
  • dizziness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach ache
  • diarrhea
  • increased perspiration
  • muscle weakness
  • joint pain
  • headache
  • fever
  • weight loss
  • low stress tolerance
  • mood swings


Addison's Crisis

In major stressful situations or due to an excessive deficiency of the stress hormone, a potentially life-threatening situation can arise which is called an Addison's crisis.
Symptoms of an Addison's crisis may include:

  • loss of appetite
  • nausea, vomiting
  • abdominal pain/flank pain
  • general weakness
  • headache/migraine
  • light-headed feeling
  • fever
  • cold shivers
  • low bloodpressure
  • strongly accelerated heart rate
  • accelerated breathing
  • sweating profusely
  • low blood sugars
  • mineral disorders
  • risk of stroke
  • risk of brain damage
  • risk of a heart attack
  • risk of organ failure
  • coma