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Adrenocorticotropic Hormone

How It Is Done

The health professional drawing blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol.
  • Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
  • Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Put pressure on the site and then put on a bandage.

How It Feels

The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.

Risks

There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.

  • You may get a small bruise at the site. You can lower the chance of bruising by keeping pressure on the site for several minutes.
  • In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after the blood sample is taken. This problem is called phlebitis. A warm compress can be used several times a day to treat this.
  • Ongoing bleeding can be a problem for people with bleeding disorders. Aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood-thinning medicines can make bleeding more likely. If you have bleeding or clotting problems, or if you take blood-thinning medicine, tell your doctor before your blood sample is taken.
  • Bruising may be more likely in people with high ACTH and cortisol levels.

Results

An adrenocorticotropic hormone test measures the level of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in the blood.

Results of an ACTH test are usually available in a few days.

Normal

The normal values listed here—called a reference range—are just a guide. These ranges vary from lab to lab, and your lab may have a different range for what's normal. Your lab report should contain the range your lab uses. Also, your doctor will evaluate your results based on your health and other factors. This means that a value that falls outside the normal values listed here may still be normal for you or your lab.

Normal ACTH levels1
Morning

Less than 80 pg/mL or less than 18 pmol/L

Evening

Less than 50 pg/mL or less than 11 pmol/L

High values

High levels of ACTH may be caused by:

  • Emotional or physical stress (such as recent surgery or severe pain).
  • Diseases such as Addison's disease (failure of the adrenal glands camera.gif), Cushing's disease (a tumor of the pituitary gland camera.gif), or a tumor outside the pituitary (such as in the lung).

Low values

Low levels of ACTH may be caused by:

  • Damage to the pituitary gland from surgery, radiation, stroke, head injury, or a tumor.
  • An increased amount of cortisol from a tumor in the adrenal glands (Cushing's syndrome).
  • Corticosteroid medicines.
ACTH and cortisol levels in specific conditions
Condition ACTH Cortisol

Cushing's disease

High

High

Cushing's syndrome

Low

High

Addison's disease

High

Low

Hypopituitarism

Low

Low

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 17, 2012
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.

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