Krisha McCoy, MS
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.
Adrenal crisis may be caused by:
Factors that may increase your chance of adrenal crisis include:
Adrenal crisis may cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If the doctor suspects an adrenal crisis, the diagnosis will be confirmed through blood tests to look for abnormal levels of hormones, electrolytes, and blood sugar.
Images of pituitary or adrenal glands may be taken with MRI or CT scans.
Adrenal crisis is a very serious and potentially life threatening. People with adrenal crisis require
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment will include the following:
Almost all people with adrenal crisis are dehydrated. Large amount of fluids containing sodium and other electrolytes will be needed.
needed in an adrenal crisis. If you are vomiting or unconscious, these medications will be given by injection or through an IV.
To help reduce your chance of an adrenal crisis:
American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians
Canadian Institute for Health Information
Adrenal crisis causes death in some people treated with hGH. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
Published September 24, 2012. Accessed June 4, 2014.
Adrenal insufficiency and Addison's disease. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
Updated May 14, 2014. Accessed June 4, 2014.
Adrenal insufficiency in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
Updated December 16, 2013. Accessed June 4, 2014.
Omori K, Nomura K, Shimizu S, Omori N, Takano K. Risk factors for adrenal crisis in patients with adrenal insufficiency.
Endocrine J. 2003;50(6):745-752.
Thomas Z. An update on the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency and the use of corticotherapy in critical illness.
Todd GRG, Acerini CL, Ross-Russell R, et al. Survey of adrenal crisis associated with inhaled corticosteroids in the United Kingdom.
Arch. Dis Child. 2002;87(6):457-461.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Kim Carmichael, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.