When the body experiences a cortisol deficiency, many of these key functions are critically impeded, which can lead to serious illness, and even death. Cortisol often regulates insulin, and in deficient states can cause glucose-related shock. As a hormone that combats stress, it's lack can also cause severe behavior disorders, making sufferers more prone to irritability and panic. It is often linked to the severe condition known as Addison's disease, where the adrenal glands continuously produce limited amounts of necessary bodily hormones.
Cortisol deficiency occurs due to a malfunction of the adrenal gland, which is located just above the kidneys and administers adrenal hormones directly into the blood stream. Addison's, which is a hypoadrenal disease, is actually a common cause of the condition, and cortisol deficiency is usually the first sign that the glands are subsequently failing. Addison's is an autoimmune disease that develops when the antibodies of the immune system attack the adrenal glands, confusing them with being outside agents (the reason why this happens is currently unknown). The attack usually leaves the adrenal gland severely damaged, and often functioning at diminished capacity. Over time, the adrenal glands can even, essentially, be killed.
Other hypoadrenal disorders can also cause cortisol deficiency, including adrenocortison hormone deficiency, which is where the pituitary gland fails to produce the hormones that trigger the function of the adrenal glands. This can cause the adrenal glands to function sporadically, or to stop functioning enitrely and eventually atrophy due to limited hormone stimulation.
Steroid use, either as a form of medical treatment, or due to the abuse of performance enhancing drugs or aging treatments, can also impair the secretion of adrenal hormones. These outside hormones, when administered to the bloodstream, may confuse the adrenal gland into thinking that the system has more hormones than it actually needs, and may cease functioning.
Symptoms of cortisol deficiency are exemplified by extreme dizziness, fatigue, muscle weakness, weight loss, and headaches associated with low blood sugar. Digestive symptoms also manifest, such as appetite reduction, stomach cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting. Stress related conditions will sometimes also manifest, such as depression, irritability, hair loss, and fainting. Advanced cortisol deficiency is often distinguished by severe states of bodily collapse.
Cortisol deficiency is fairly easy to diagnose outside of symptoms, as blood tests can check for the presence of cortisol and other adrenal hormones quite easily. Treatment is usually twofold: first the cause of the deficiency must be addressed, especially if it caused by steroid medication or steroid abuse. From there, the condition can be treated with cortisol replacement therapy, which relies mainly on hydrocortisone. Often, however, cortisol levels must be then monitored, as high levels of cortisol can, in turn, cause a number of other ailments, such as increasing chances of osteoporosis and even some forms of brain damage.