Treatment of adrenal insufficiency involves replacing, or substituting, the hormones that the adrenal glands are not making. Cortisol is replaced with a synthetic glucocorticoid such as hydrocortisone, prednisone, or dexamethasone, taken orally once to three times each day, depending on which medication is chosen. If aldosterone is also deficient, it is replaced with oral doses of a mineralocorticoid, called fludrocortisone acetate (Florinef), taken once or twice a day. Doctors usually advise patients receiving aldosterone replacement therapy to increase their salt intake. Because people with secondary adrenal insufficiency normally maintain aldosterone production, they do not require aldosterone replacement therapy. The doses of each medication are adjusted to meet the needs of the individual.
During an Addisonian crisis, low blood pressure, low blood glucose, and high levels of potassium can be life threatening. Standard therapy involves intravenous injections of glucocorticoids and large volumes of intravenous saline solution with dextrose, a type of sugar. This treatment usually brings rapid improvement. When the patient can take fluids and medications by mouth, the amount of glucocorticoids is decreased until a maintenance dose is reached. If aldosterone is deficient, maintenance therapy also includes oral doses of fludrocortisone acetate.
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