It was fortunate that I was able to turn a personal visit to Brisbane recently into an opportunity to attend and present at an Addison’s Disease Awareness Month event on Sunday morning.
The information session was well-attended by people who live with Addison’s Disease, as well as nurses, paramedics and trainees who were all interested in learning more about the rare and progressive disease that affects both men and women.
I was surprised to hear that diagnosis of Addison’s Disease is still an issue for some, as it was back when I was nursing quite some years ago. Perhaps it’s because the symptoms can be very non-specific and are often not easily detected.
A quick online search shows between one and six people per 100,000 population have Addison’s Disease, with symptoms including general lethargy, weight loss and dizziness when standing. Some also notice a change in skin colouring or salt cravings.
While vague symptoms can go some way to explaining why the disease can sometimes be missed by treating clinicians, one important symptom is a drop in postural blood pressure. That got me thinking; how many of us have gone to our doctor and had our blood pressure taken sitting down? For someone with untreated Addison’s Disease, there can be a significant drop in blood pressure from a sitting to standing position – so severe that it can lead to fainting. A simple check of the blood pressure on standing could be one step closer to achieving an accurate and timely diagnosis.
It was great to see that a number of people attending the event were MedicAlert members, because an Addisonian crisis (with symptoms such as extreme weakness, a serious drop in blood pressure and mental confusion) can be life-threatening.
I was also impressed with comments from a nurse and a paramedic in the audience who described our distinctive MedicAlert emblem as “gold” for healthcare professionals in an emergency situation.
We know the medical information engraved on the emblem can make a significant difference to treatment outcomes. For those with Addison’s disease it can quickly offer first responders information about the condition and flag the need for emergency intervention.
For more information about Addison’s Disease Awareness Month, visit www.addison’s.org.au