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
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Adrenal Glands
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Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Adrenal crisis may be caused by:
  • Rapid withdrawal from steroid therapy
  • Sepsis—a bloodstream infection
  • Surgical stress
  • Injury to the adrenal gland or surgical removal of adrenal gland
  • Damage to pituitary gland from hemorrhage (bleeding), infarction, surgery, or trauma
  • Thyroid hormone replacement in someone with adrenal insufficiency

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chances of developing adrenal crisis include:
  • Septic shock
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • Chronic or frequent use of steroid medications
  • Tuberculosis or other granulomatous diseases
  • History of multiple autoimmune glandular diseases
  • HIV
  • Anti-coagulation therapy

Symptoms

Adrenal crisis may cause:
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Feeling excessively tired
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • High or low body temperature
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea

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