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Papers of the Week

2016 Jun

Acad Forensic Pathol



Addison Disease: The First Presentation of the Condition May be at Autopsy.


Kemp WL, Koponen MA, Meyers SE
Acad Forensic Pathol. 2016 Jun; 6(2):249-257.
PMID: 31239896.


Addison disease is chronic primary adrenal insufficiency, which, in developed countries, is most commonly due to autoimmune destruction of the cortex (termed autoimmune or idiopathic Addison disease). Although the disease process has some classic features, such as increased pigmentation, salt craving, and signs and symptoms related to decreased blood pressure, the initial clinical presentation may be vague and/or insidious. Following an acute stressor such as a gastrointestinal (GI) infection, the patient may experience an adrenal crisis, which can cause sudden death. As such, knowledge of this disease process and the diagnostic criteria in the postmortem period is essential for the practicing forensic pathologist. The diagnosis of autoimmune Addison disease at autopsy is aided by several factors including 1) history, including salt craving, features consistent with orthostatic hypotension, and GI complaints including nausea, vomiting and pain, 2) physical examination findings of increased pigmentation and small or unidentifiable adrenal glands, 3) serologic testing for 21-hydroxylase antibodies, 4) serum cortisol concentrations, and 5) vitreous electrolyte testing. While the listed historical information, the increased pigmentation, decreased serum cortisol concentrations, and evidence of hyponatremia may be found in all forms of Addison disease, small or unidentifiable adrenal glands and 21-hydroxylase antibodies are found exclusively in the autoimmune form of Addison disease. While other causes of Addison disease, such as tuberculosis, metastatic tumor, or other infiltrative processes would have enlarged adrenal glands, these diseases would lack 21-hydroxylase antibodies. The purpose of this paper is to focus on the diagnosis of autoimmune Addison disease.