Back to Previous Page

Adrenal Crisis

(Acute Adrenocortical Insufficiency)

Definition

Adrenal crisis is a life-threatening condition. It is caused by a deficiency of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps to keep the body in balance with influence over blood sugar levels, immune system, blood pressure, and more.
Cortisol is made in the adrenal glands which sit just above the kidney. However, the pituitary gland, which sits just below the brain, regulates how much cotrisol should be made.
Pituitary Gland
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Adrenal Glands
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Adrenal crisis may be caused by:

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of adrenal crisis include:

Symptoms

Adrenal crisis may cause:

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If the doctor suspects an adrenal crisis, the diagnosis will be confirmed through blood tests to look for abnormal levels of hormones, electrolytes, and blood sugar.
Images of pituitary or adrenal glands may be taken with MRI or CT scans.

Treatment

Adrenal crisis is a very serious and potentially life threatening. People with adrenal crisis require immediate medical care.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will include the following:

Fluid Replacement

Almost all people with adrenal crisis are dehydrated. Large amount of fluids containing sodium and other electrolytes will be needed.

Medications

Glucocorticoid replacement is needed in an adrenal crisis. If you are vomiting or unconscious, these medications will be given by injection or through an IV.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of an adrenal crisis:

RESOURCES

American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists http://www.aace.com

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases http://www.niddk.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians http://www.caep.ca

Canadian Institute for Health Information http://www.cihi.ca

References

Adrenal crisis causes death in some people treated with hGH. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/endocrine/national-hormone-pituitary-program/Pages/health-alert-hGH.aspx. Published September 24, 2012. Accessed June 4, 2014.

Adrenal insufficiency and Addison's disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/endocrine/adrenal-insufficiency-addisons-disease/Pages/fact-sheet.aspx. Updated May 14, 2014. Accessed June 4, 2014.

Adrenal insufficiency in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 16, 2013. Accessed June 4, 2014.

Omori K, Nomura K, Shimizu S, Omori N, Takano K. Risk factors for adrenal crisis in patients with adrenal insufficiency. Endocrine J. 2003;50(6):745-752.

Thomas Z. An update on the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency and the use of corticotherapy in critical illness. Ann Pharmacotherapy. 2007:41(9):1456-1465

Todd GRG, Acerini CL, Ross-Russell R, et al. Survey of adrenal crisis associated with inhaled corticosteroids in the United Kingdom. Arch. Dis Child. 2002;87(6):457-461.

Revision Information