It's hardly uncommon to crave some salty pretzels or French fries every now and then. Food cravings come up every so often, particularly kicking in when we're stressed or anxious, as carbohydrates, fat, and sugar produce a calming effect on our bodies, according to WebMD. However, just because food cravings are normal doesn't mean they're never something to be concerned about, seeing as cravings can be symptoms of various health concerns. So, if you notice that you are suddenly and overwhelmingly craving salty foods, there may be something else at play. Read on to find out what disease could be behind your salt craving.
If you're suddenly craving salty foods, it could be a sign of Addison's disease.
If you're experiencing a new, persistent, and excessive craving for salt, experts at the Mayo Clinic say it could be a sign of Addison's disease. Also known as adrenal insufficiency, Addison's disease occurs when your body, specifically your adrenal glands on your kidneys, can't produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone.
There are two causes of Addison's disease: primary and secondary adrenal insufficiency. Primary adrenal insufficiency occurs when the outer layer, or cortex, of your adrenal glands is damaged. Secondary adrenal insufficiency is caused by the pituitary gland making too little of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which is responsible for stimulating the adrenal cortex to produce key hormones.
You're likely to experience other gastrointestinal and full body symptoms with Addison's disease, too.
Salt cravings are not likely to be your only symptom of Addison's disease, however. You may also experience fatigue, weight loss, hyperpigmentation, low blood pressure and sugar, gastrointestinal symptoms, abdominal pain, muscle or joint pain, irritability, and depression. Women may also deal with body hair loss or sexual dysfunction.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of primary and secondary adrenal insufficiency are largely the same. However, those with secondary adrenal insufficiency won't experience hyperpigmentation and are also less likely to have severe dehydration or low blood pressure but are more likely to have low blood sugar.
People with diabetes may be more at risk for Addison's disease.
Having any other autoimmune disease is a risk factor for Addison's disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. But people who have type 1 diabetes seem to be at a significantly higher risk. A 2018 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology&Metabolism found that the risk of developing Addison's disease is more than 10 times higher in individuals with type 1 diabetes than in the general population.
Other risk factors include having cancer, having a chronic infection like tuberculosis, or having surgery that removed any part of your adrenal glands, per the Mayo Clinic.
And certain medications can also put you at an increased risk.
People who take certain medications, like blood thinners or steroids, may also be more at risk of developing Addison's disease. Steroid drugs may be prescribed for a multitude of reasons and in many different forms, like in skin creams, eye drops, nasal sprays, inhalers, injections, and pills for asthma, sinus infections, pain, lupus, and inflammation.
"Exposure to these steroids over time can cause adrenal insufficiency, because it suppresses your ability to make your own hormones," Elizabeth McAninch, MD, an endocrinologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told Healthgrades. "I'm not saying not to take them, but confirm with your doctor if it's needed and why it's needed."
She also noted that even over-the-counter (OTC) steroids can suppress your hormone production, but you would have to use a considerable amount over time for it to potentially lead to Addison's disease.
Leaving Addison's disease untreated can have serious consequences.
While it'd be easy to ignore fatigue, a stomachache, or craving for salt, Addison's disease is not something you should overlook. Untreated Addison's disease can develop into an addisonian crisis, which is acute adrenal failure than can cause your body to go into a life-threatening state of shock. Unfortunately, according to the Mayo Clinic, diagnosing Addison's disease is challenging because it progresses slowly, leading symptoms to often go ignored until they get so severe it reaches the level of an addisonian crisis.
"The treatment is relatively straightforward, but the diagnosis can be difficult to make because it can overlap with so many other things," Patrick Cody, DO, an emergency medicine physician at Norman Regional Health System in Oklahoma, said on the medical company's website.
If you experience any symptoms like severe weakness, confusion, pain in your lower back or legs, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or low blood pressure, you should seek emergency medical treatment as these can all be signs of acute adrenal failure.
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