Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Secondary Adrenocortical Insufficiency - Topic Overview

Secondary adrenocortical insufficiency is a condition in which a deficiency of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) leads to insufficient cortisol production.

Production of cortisol is controlled by the action of ACTH produced by the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain. If either the hypothalamus or pituitary gland is damaged, less ACTH is produced, leading to underfunctioning of the adrenal glands and reduced cortisol production.

Recommended Related to Cancer

Treatment Options for Refractory Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Treatment of refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia may include the following: A clinical trial of chemotherapy with stem cell transplant. A clinical trial of a new treatment. Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with refractory chronic lymphocytic leukemia. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. General...

Read the Treatment Options for Refractory Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia article > >

This may be caused by:

  • A tumor of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus.
  • Previous radiation of the hypothalamus or pituitary gland.
  • Previous surgery to the pituitary gland.
  • Rare conditions such as hemochromatosis, sarcoidosis, or Sheehan's syndrome (hypopituitarism). Sheehan's syndrome is occasionally caused by severe blood loss after delivering a baby.

The symptoms of secondary adrenocortical insufficiency are similar to those of Addison's disease, except that darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation) and high levels of potassium in the blood are not present.

With secondary adrenocortical insufficiency, only cortisol is low. The adrenal glands can still make normal amounts of aldosterone. Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and muscle weakness that gradually become worse over time.
  • Weight loss. Profound weight loss is a prominent symptom.
  • Loss of appetite.

Diagnosis starts with a medical history and physical examination. If your doctor suspects adrenal insufficiency, he or she will check your blood cortisol and ACTH levels. Your doctor may recommend imaging tests of the adrenal glands, the pituitary gland, or the hypothalamus.

If your doctor suspects secondary adrenocortical insufficiency, you may get infusions of ACTH on two consecutive days. In most cases, even if you have problems with the pituitary or hypothalamus, your adrenal glands will make cortisol by the end of the second treatment. If possible, your doctor will treat the condition that is causing secondary adrenocortical insufficiency. Your doctor may start treatment during the testing if he or she thinks adrenal insufficiency is likely. If treatment is found to be unnecessary, it can be stopped after testing is complete.

CT scan or MRI can be used to see whether there is evidence of damage to the brain or pituitary gland (such as a tumor) that is causing adrenal failure.

1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 05, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
Next Article:

Secondary Adrenocortical Insufficiency Topics

Today on WebMD

Building a Support System
Blog
cancer fighting foods
SLIDESHOW
 
precancerous lesions slideshow
SLIDESHOW
quit smoking tips
SLIDESHOW
 
Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
Blog
what is your cancer risk
HEALTH CHECK
 
colorectal cancer treatment advances
Video
breast cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
prostate cancer overview
SLIDESHOW
lung cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
 
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
SLIDESHOW
Actor Michael Douglas
Article