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Endocrine glands
Endocrine glands


Adrenal gland hormone secretion
Adrenal gland hormone secretion


Definition:

Acute adrenal crisis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when there is not enough cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands .



Alternative Names:

Adrenal crisis; Addisonian crisis; Acute adrenal insufficiency



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

The two adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. They consist of the outer portion, called the cortex, and the inner portion, called the medulla. The cortex produces three types of hormones, all of which are called corticosteroids.

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid -- a corticosteroid that:

  • Helps regulate blood sugar (glucose)
  • Holds back the immune response
  • Is released as part of the body's response to stress

Cortisol production is regulated by a small gland just below the brain called the pituitary gland. Cortisol is essential for life.

Adrenal crisis occurs when:

  • The adrenal gland is damaged (Addison's disease , primary adrenal insufficiency)
  • The pituitary gland is injured (secondary adrenal insufficiency)
  • Adrenal insufficiency is not properly treated

Risk factors for adrenal crisis include:

  • Dehydration
  • Infection and other physical stress
  • Injury to the adrenal or pituitary gland
  • Stopping treatment with steroids such as prednisone or hydrocortisone too early
  • Surgery
  • Trauma


Symptoms:

Treatment:

In adrenal crisis, patients need an immediate injection of hydrocortisone through a vein (intravenous ) or muscle (intramuscular). You may receive intravenous fluids if you have low blood pressure.

You will need to go to the hospital for treatment and monitoring. If infection caused the crisis, you may need antibiotic therapy.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

Shock may occur if treatment is not provided early, and it can be life-threatening.



Complications:

Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if you have Addison's disease and are unable to keep your medications down because of vomiting.

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you develop symptoms of acute adrenal crisis.



Prevention:

If you have Addison's disease, you should learn to recognize signs of potential stress that may cause an acute adrenal crisis. Most people with Addison's disease are taught to give themselves an emergency injection of hydrocortisone or increase their dose of oral prednisone in times of stress.

It is important to always carry a medical identification card that states the type of medication and the proper dose you need in case of an emergency.

Never miss your medications.



References:

Stewart PM. The adrenal cortex. In: Kronenberg H, Melmed S, Polonsky K, Larsen PR, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 14.




Review Date: 3/18/2008
Reviewed By: Elizabeth H. Holt, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Yale University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed byDavid Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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