Category: Critical Care
Adrenal insufficiency (AI) can be a life-threating condition and is classified as primary (failure of the adrenal gland) or secondary (failure of hypothalamic- pituitary axis).
Common causes of primary adrenal insufficiency include autoimmune destruction, infectious causes (TB and CMV), or interactions with drugs (e.g., anti-fungals, Etomidate, etc.). Secondary causes are usually due to abrupt withdrawal of steroids after chronic use, although sepsis and diseases of the hypothalamus or pituitary (e.g., CVA) may occur.
Signs and symptoms include fatigue, weakness, skin pigmentation, dizziness, abdominal pain, and orthostatic hypotension; it should be suspected with any of the following: hyponatremia, hyperkalemia, hypoglycemia, hypercalcemia, low free-cortisol level, and hemodynamic instability despite resuscitation.
• Correct underlying the disorder
• Resuscitation and hemodynamic support
• Correct hypoglycemia and electrolyte abnormalities
• Treat with hydrocortisone, cortisone, prednisone, or dexamethasone +/- fludrocortisone (Note: dexamethasone is attractive choice in the ED because it will not interfere with ACTH stimulation test)
Neary, N and Nieman, L. Adrenal Insufficiency: Etiology, diagnosis and treatment. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2010 Jun;17(3):217-23.