- Autoimmune (associated with other endocrinopathies, PTH, DM)
- Infection (TB, viral, meningococcemia)
- Infiltration (sarcoidosis, amyloidosis)
- Hemorrhage (trauma, anti-coagulation)
- Malignancy (primary, metastatic)
- Iatrogenic (>5mg prednisone/day for > 2 weeks)
- Pituitary/sellar tumors
- Hemorrhage (Sheehan)
- Cranial radiation
Signs and symptoms
Characteristic symptoms are
- Sudden penetrating pain in the legs, lower back or abdomen
- Confusion, psychosis, slurred speech
- Severe lethargy
- Hyperkalemia (elevated potassium level in the blood)
- Hypercalcemia (elevated calcium level in the blood): the cause of hypercalcemia is a combination of increased calcium input into the extracellular space and reduced calcium removal by the kidney, this last caused by decreased glomerular filtration and increased tubular calcium reabsorption. Both renal factors are secondary to volume depletion and, in fact, improve rapidly during rehydration with saline infusion.
- Hypoglycemia (reduced level of blood glucose)
- Hyponatremia (low sodium level in the blood)
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Hypothyroid (low T4 level)
- Severe vomiting and diarrhea, resulting in dehydration
- Syncope (loss of consciousness and ability to stand)
- Hypotension (refractory)
- GI: anorexia, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea
- Mild metabolic acidosis
- Various investigations aid the diagnosis.
- ACTH (cosyntropin) stimulation test
- Cortisol level (to assess the level of glucocorticoids)
- Fasting blood sugar
- Serum potassium
- RAAS function maintained, hypotension rare
- Features of pituitary/hypothalamic dysfunction: menstrual disturbances, headache, vision changes, galactorrhea, acromegaly
- Adrenal Crisis
- Precipitated by physiologic stressor: sepsis, MI, trauma, surgery
- AM cortisol <3
- ACTH stimulation peak cortisol <15
- ACTH level
- Glucose management
- Fluid resuscitation
- Dexamethasone 10mg IV
- Identify and treat precipitant
Acute adrenal insufficiency is a medical emergency and needs to be treated with injectable hydrocortisone and fluid support.
Adrenal crisis is triggered by physiological stress (such as trauma). Activities that have an elevated risk of trauma are best avoided. Treatment must be given within two hours of trauma and consequently it is advisable to carry injectable hydrocortisone in remote areas.
- “Acute adrenal crisis (Addisonian crisis)”. Endocrine Surgery Encyclopedia. UCLA Health System. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
- “Addison’s Disease”. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service. Retrieved 14 August 2013.
- “Etiology of hypercalcemia in a patient with Addison’s disease”. Calcified Tissue International. 34: 523–526. doi:10.1007/BF02411297.
- Hydrocortisone The Pituitary Foundation, UK
- Hahner, S.; Loeffler, M.; Bleicken, B.; Drechsler, C.; Milovanovic, D.; Fassnacht, M.; Ventz, M.; Quinkler, M.; Allolio, B. (2 December 2009). “Epidemiology of adrenal crisis in chronic adrenal insufficiency: the need for new prevention strategies”. European Journal of Endocrinology. 162 (3): 597–602. doi:10.1530/EJE-09-0884. PMID 19955259.
- Annane, D. (20 August 2002). “Effect of Treatment With Low Doses of Hydrocortisone and Fludrocortisone on Mortality in Patients With Septic Shock”. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 288 (7): 862–871. doi:10.1001/jama.288.7.862. PMID 12186604.