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Endocr Dev. 2011;20:161-72. doi: 10.1159/000321239. Epub 2010 Dec 16.

Autoimmune Addison's disease.

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Clinical Immunology, Endocrine Unit, Department of Medical and Surgical Sciences, University of Padova, Via Ospedale Civile 105, Padua, Italy.


Primary adrenocortical insufficiency, or Addison's disease (AD), results from an adrenal cortex hypofunction/dysfunction with a deficient production of glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids and androgens, and with high levels of both ACTH and plasma renin activity. The prevalence of AD is 110-144 cases per million population in the developed countries. Autoimmune AD is the most frequent etiological form in adult patients, accounting for about 80% of cases, followed by post-tuberculosis AD in 10-15%, the remaining 5% being cases are due to vascular, neoplastic or rare genetic forms. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is the most frequent form of AD in children and accounts for 72% of cases, whereas autoimmune AD is seen in around 10-15% of cases. The markers of autoimmune AD are adrenal cortex (ACA) or 21-hydroxylase autoantibodies (21-OHAbs) and they are present at diagnosis in more than 90% of cases. In autoimmune AD, the adrenal cortex is infiltrated by lymphocytes and plasma cells and the glands are sclerotic and reduced in volume. Autoimmune AD occurs mainly in middle-aged females, alone or associated with other (clinical, subclinical or potential) autoimmune diseases, giving rise to various forms of autoimmune polyglandular syndrome (type 1, 2 or 4). Replacement therapy with gluco-and mineralocorticoids is life-saving for patients with chronic adrenal insufficiency.

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