Adrenal disease can be life-threatening and is rarely tested for. This post was written to explain how to be properly tested for adrenal disease. This is not to be used to diagnose or treat any condition. Contact your doctor before starting or stopping any medication or treatment.
There are many forms of adrenal disease-
(This is not an all inclusive list, there are hundreds of adrenal complications)
Adrenal Insufficiency- Disease of the adrenal glands, resulting in the lack of cortisol production. Can also result in lack of DHEA, aldosterone and disrupt the balance of endocrine hormones, electrolyte balances and blood sugar levels.
Primary Addison’s disease- Autoimmune disease resulting in the
destruction of the adrenal glands, rendering them unable to
produce proper amounts of cortisol, DHEA & Aldosterone.
Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency- When the pituitary gland does
not produce the hormone ATCH (Adrenocorticotropic hormone)
resulting in the lack of cortisol production in the adrenal glands.
Tertiary Adrenal Insufficiency- When the hypothalamus fails to
release CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) which stimulates the
production of ACTH by the pituitary gland.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH)- Genetic disorder present from birth that impairs the adrenal glands. CAH patients lack the enzymes the adrenal glands use to produce hormones that help regulate metabolism, the immune system, blood pressure and other essential functions.
Cushing’s Disease- A rare condition that is the result of too much cortisol production in the body. One source of Cushings is when the adrenal glands have a tumor; making too much cortisol. Another cause of Cushing’s syndrome is when the body makes too much of the hormone ACTH; which causes the adrenal glands to make cortisol.
Possible Symptoms of Adrenal Insufficiency-
(Note- This disease is sometimes referred to as “Syndrome X” because it presents different in everyone. The following symptoms are possible ailments that may be present in adrenal disease but are not all inclusive.)
Pain in the abdomen or muscles or joints, dehydration, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, lightheadedness, loss of appetite, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, water-electrolyte imbalance, or sweating, nausea or vomiting, craving salty foods, darkening of the skin, excess urination, muscle weakness, reduced sex drive, or weight loss.
If you are craving sea salt or salty foods, PLEASE get tested. That is one of the most prominent signs of adrenal disease.
The primary diagnostic tests that endocrinologists use to diagnose adrenal disease:
ACTH stimulation test- Measures how well the adrenal glands respond to the release of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). When this test is done, blood is drawn prior to injection of ACTH, then at 30 minute intervals for a few hours to test your adrenal response to the ACTH. If your cortisol levels do not rise properly, you are then diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency.
Dexamethasone Suppression Test- Tests adrenal gland function by measuring how cortisol levels change in response to the steroid dexamethasone. This test has historically been used to diagnose depression as well.
8am Cortisol Blood Draw- Your body’s natural cortisol levels should be the highest in the morning, according to your body’s circadian rhythm. If your AM levels are low, it indicates an adrenal issue.
(Saliva and urine tests are also performed, but are not as widely accepted for diagnostic criteria)
Alternative Test- An insulin tolerance test (ITT) is a medical diagnostic procedure during which insulin is injected into a patient’s vein, after which blood glucose is measured at regular intervals. This procedure is performed to assess pituitary function and adrenal function.
Use caution if you begin steroids before you have had an ACTH stimulation test. You will forever battle for the right diagnosis with an endocrinologist if you do. Steroids can cause adrenal suppression and if you do not get tested BEFORE your steroid use it can be assumed you have adrenal insufficiency due to steriod supression, even if that was not the reason you developed adrenal failure.
Do yourself a favor and get tested and discover your body’s natural adrenal function.
This is in no way suggesting someone in adrenal crisis should be withheld from steroid treatment.
This is simply stating that proper testing should be done before a long term steroid regiment is started.
Steroids are life saving medications for those with adrenal insufficiency, but they do come with side effects. (Such as- Weight gain, stretch marks, cataracts, glaucoma, easy bruising, acne, increased appetite, increased growth of body hair)
They are not medicines that you want to start on a whim.
Steroids CAN cause adrenal suppression. DO NOT get on them unless your doctor is SURE you need them.
(Acute uses of steroids are common for infections and asthma, this is not what I am talking about. Long term or repeated use DOES come with risks. Please be advised and ALWAYS consult your doctor regarding your medication use)
An adrenal crisis will lead to death if left untreated. If you suspect you are having adrenal issues, please request the following-
ACTH Stim Test
Dexamethasone Suppression Test
Aldosterone, DHEA, Cortisol and Renin levels.
To read more about adrenal disease visit the following links-
Understanding Adrenal Disease
The Care and Keeping of Adrenal Disease
Video- How to easily explain Adrenal Disease
This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult your health care provider before starting or stopping any medical treatment. I am NOT a doctor, nor do I claim to be. I am simply an adrenal insufficient woman who has done much research to understand adrenal disease and seeks to help others understand as well.