What Are the Effects of Addison’s Disease on the Skin?

A rare disorder of the adrenal glands, Addison's disease presents with a range of symptoms, including unique skin conditions including vitiligo and hyperpigmentation.

Rare is Addison's illness. It frequently results from autoimmune illnesses, in which the adrenal glands are attacked by the immune system. It can induce a variety of symptoms, such as skin alterations like vitiligo and hyperpigmentation, depending on the underlying cause.

If Addison's disease is left untreated, it can result in an Addisonian crisis, a potentially fatal condition. Severe pain, nausea, diarrhoea, and unconsciousness are possible symptoms.

Continue reading to find out more about the causes, symptoms, and potential treatments of Addison's disease, as well as how it affects the skin.

What does the skin look like with Addison’s disease?

Addison's disease can cause noticeable changes in the colour and tone of your skin.

Addison’s disease and skin hyperpigmentation

One of Addison's disease's early and typically noticeable symptoms is hyperpigmentation. It occurs when specific skin regions in various body parts get darker than the surrounding skin.

But sometimes these skin changes are less noticeable, particularly in those with darker skin tones. This may occasionally cause a delay in diagnosis.

Sun-exposed body portions including the elbows, knees, and knuckles, along with wrinkles and scars, are the most frequently afflicted locations. Additionally, you might observe skin darkening on the gums and lips.


Vitiligo is less prevalent than hyperpigmentation in Addison's disease patients, but it can still occur. Patches of discoloured skin that appear lighter than your natural skin tone are the hallmarks of this illness.

others with light skin tones may find these patches nearly white, while others with darker skin tones may see more noticeable lighter areas.

Although vitiligo can affect any part of the body, it usually manifests on the face, neck, scalp, and other regions that are frequently exposed to sunlight.

Black freckles

On skin exposed to the sun, such as the face, forehead, and shoulders, black freckles may develop. The overproduction of melanocyte-stimulating hormones is the cause of them.

Those with lighter skin tones tend to have these freckles more than others, and they are darker and more noticeable.

Freckles may appear less prominent in individuals with darker skin tones, although they can still be seen as darker patches on the skin.

What causes the dermatological effects of Addison’s disease?

The cutaneous manifestations of Addison's disease are associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Your body's intricate system, which includes the pituitary, brain, and adrenal glands, controls how much hormone is produced.

Proopiomelanocortin is a chemical released by the brain's hypothalamus. That’s then turned into adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) in the pituitary gland.

The HPA axis, on the other hand, makes up for the lack of hormone production by the adrenal glands by producing more proopiomelanocortin, which raises ACHT levels. Elevated ACTH levels trigger the release of MSH, leading to an excess of melanin in the skin. Hyperpigmentation and other colour changes in the skin result from that.

What are the other symptoms of Addison’s disease?

A shortage of cortisol and aldosterone frequently causes the symptoms of Addison's disease. They may appear gradually over time or suddenly in the event of acute adrenal insufficiency.

Although weariness is the most typical and early sign of Addison's disease, there are other symptoms as well, such as:
  • low blood pressure, leading to dizziness or fainting spells
  • an unusual craving for salty foods
  • unintentional weight loss
  • decreased appetite
  • irritability
  • low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia)
  • nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pains, or vomiting
  • mood changes
  • chronic aches and muscle pains

When to contact a doctor

If rest is ineffective for your chronic weariness, think about seeking medical attention.


The following signs may point to the Addisonian crisis, a dangerous illness that can be lethal if left untreated. Visit the closest emergency department if you encounter:
  • extreme weakness
  • excruciating leg or lower back pain
  • severe vomiting and diarrhea
  • sudden weight loss
  • lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting, especially when standing

Addison’s disease skin effects treatment

Managing the underlying hormone deficits is part of treating the skin symptoms of Addison's disease. The main treatment for Addison's disease is hormone replacement therapy, which entails replenishing the hormones that are lacking, especially cortisol.

When corticosteroids, such as hydrocortisone (Cortef), are used as suitable hormone replacement therapy, the skin symptoms of Addison's disease commonly improve. These drugs lessen hyperpigmentation by controlling the overproduction of MSH and ACTH by stabilising cortisol levels.

To replace aldosterone and maybe help restore the proper balance of salt and fluids, a medical practitioner may also administer fludrocortisone. Your doctor may modify your prescription at times of stress, illness, or surgery to replicate the body's normal rise in cortisol production. This may aid in symptom stabilisation.

Treating skin symptoms is critical, but managing Addison's disease itself is much more crucial.


Hormonal imbalances, including elevated levels of ACTH and MSH, which result in increased melanin formation, are the cause of Addison's disease skin symptoms.

Hormone replacement therapy is the main treatment for cortisol deficiency, and it can also help relieve some of the skin symptoms.

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