Acute Adrenal Crisis



What is Acute Adrenal Crisis?

Acute Adrenal Crisis is a life-threatening condition resulting from insufficient levels of cortisol being circulated in the body. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands. Also called the suprarenal glands, these are endocrine glands that are triangular in shape and located at the top of each kidney. Their main responsibility is the production of hormones tied to stress. These include adrenaline and cortisol. There are two adrenal glands within the body, each weighing approximately four to seven grams. These glands consist of a cortex (the outer part) and an inner part called the medulla. Each part differs greatly from the other and carries out a separate function.

Due to their chemical composition, the vital hormones produced by the cortex are referred to as steroids. The term given to these is “Mineralocorticoids”. The primary hormone in this category is Aldosterone. Progesterone and the female sex hormone known as estrogen, androgen which is the male sex hormone and glucocorticoids; chiefly cortisol or hydrocortisone are also members.



Cortisol helps the breaking down of protein into glucose, can affect the rate in which water flows through the kidneys and like aldosterone. A hormone produced in the medulla whose main effect on body is to maintain the sodium balance, cortisol affects sodium and potassium levels. Excessive cortisol can cause skin complications and a breakdown of the body’s natural immunities. Deficiencies can affect the passing of urine or liquid from the body as well as drastically reduce the body’s ability to withstand stress. The hormone is also linked to weight gain in persons with high stress levels.

An acute adrenal crisis develops in the event that the adrenal glands are injured by conditions like primary adrenal insufficiency and Addison’s disease, when secondary adrenal insufficiency occurs due to damage to the gland or a present adrenal insufficiency goes untreated or is improperly treated. The disorder can be fostered by trauma, surgery, dehydrations, early discontinuation of steroid treatments like hydrocortisone or prednisone, infections or other physical stresses and damages to the pituitary and adrenal glands.



Symptoms of Acute Adrenal Crisis

Below is an extended list of symptoms that can be experienced by persons with acute adrenal crisis:

  1. Abdominal pain, headaches, flank pain and joint pains.
  2. Coma or confusion and a loss of consciousness.
  3. Fatigue, profound weakness, slow movements or sluggishness, light-headedness or dizziness and dehydration.
  4. Nausea and vomiting.
  5. Rapid heart rate, rapid respiratory rate and low blood pressure.
  6. Shaking chills, excessive and/or unusual sweating on palms or face and high fevers.
  7. Skin rash/lesions and skin discoloration (darkening).
  8. A loss of appetite and weight loss (unintentional).

Diagnosing and Treating Acute Adrenal Crisis

To diagnose the condition, the body’s cortisol level can be tested; there are other procedures that can be used as well. Once diagnosed, the chemical hydrocortisone can be administered via a vein using intravenous (IV) tubes or through the muscles. Fluid may be given via IVs in the event of low blood pressure. For a crisis triggered by an infection, antibiotic therapy is often used. A patient of acute adrenal crisis should be carefully monitored and properly treated to avoid further complications.