When cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands is not produced properly, there could be different effects on the individual. Hypercortisolism or hypocortisolism can progress and become life-threatening so immediate detection and treatment is important. Find out more about the symptoms of cortisol hormone imbalance to know the right methods of approach.
Hypocortisolism is a disorder wherein the adrenal glands which are located above the kidneys cannot produce enough cortisol and aldosterone. The adrenal glands may fail slowly due to poor circulation or immediately such as in the case of trauma or hemorrhage. The rate of symptom manifestation will depend on the pace of adrenal gland failure.
The condition is also known as Addison's disease, chronic adrenocortical insufficiency, primary adrenal insufficiency or adrenocortical hypofunction. The cortex of the adrenal glands produces 3 kinds of hormones. Cortisol is included in the glucocorticoid hormone type which helps maintain proper glucose levels, suppress the immune response and help the body respond to stress.
Three main symptoms of cortisol hormone imbalance include loss of appetite, fatigue and muscle weakness that slowly get worse over time and profound weight loss. Other symptoms are darkening of the skin or hyperpigmentation of skin folds, lips, nose, lining in the mouth, creases of the palms, nipples and areola and joints like elbows, knees and knuckles, development of scars, lightheadedness, orthostatic hypotension or fainting when suddenly getting up from a lying or sitting position, craving for salty foods, trembling or shakiness due to low blood sugar, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, difficulty concentrating, depression and irritability.
Hypercortisolism a disease that occurs when the body produces excessive cortisol. Most commonly, the problems results from taking anti-inflammatory steroid medications for disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Cushing's disease is the second most common cause wherein the pituitary gland produces excessive ACTH hormone which is responsible for the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Other causes of symptoms of cortisol hormone imbalance include adrenal gland or pituitary gland tumor or the presence of other tumors in the body.
The problem is also known as Cushing's syndrome causing symptoms such as central obesity, acne and skin infection, backache, headache, buffalo hump or fat accumulation between the shoulders, abnormal facial hair growth, impotence in males, ceasing of the menstrual cycle in women, mental changes, weakness, unintentional weight gain, moon face described as being red, round and full, purple marks on the abdomen, breasts and thighs and thin skin that is easily bruised. More symptoms of the disease include fatigue, high blood pressure, red spots on the skin, skin flushing, muscle atrophy and bone pain or tenderness.
When It Becomes Life-Threatening
Symptoms that develop slowly may not be noticed immediately until Addisonian crisis or adrenal crisis occurs. This condition occurs from a stressful event like trauma, surgery, dehydration or severe infection wherein the body cannot produce enough cortisol to combat stress. Addisonian crisis is considered to be a life-threatening situation requiring fast treatment.
A person can die from shock due to extremely low blood pressure. Symptoms of the complication include severe vomiting and diarrhea leading to dehydration, confusion, restlessness, fearfulness, severe weakness, light-headedness, feeling of fainting, sudden pain in the stomach, legs and lower back, high fever, total loss of consciousness and pale face and lips. Hormone levels need to return to normal via surgery, hormone replace therapy and other dire measures.