What is relative pediatric adrenal insufficiency (Addison disease)?

Updated: Mar 10, 2020
  • Author: Kimberly Tafuri, DO; Chief Editor: Sasigarn A Bowden, MD  more...
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The term relative adrenal insufficiency (Addison disease) has been coined to describe patients with critical illness who do not appear to mount the cortisol response expected given the severity of their illness.

Some patients developed adrenal insufficiency (Addison disease) after exposure to etomidate, an agent known to interfere with cortisol synthesis. [31] Early reports indicated improvements in outcome when such patients were provided with glucocorticoids at stress doses. Subsequent studies have clearly confirmed the fact that a substantial number of patients with critical illness who have not been exposed to etomidate have low serum cortisol concentrations. [32] Some studies have found that those with very high concentrations of cortisol have a worse prognosis and a higher complication rate of secondary sepsis or intestinal perforation. Controlled trials in adults have failed to confirm the benefit of glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

Among critically ill children, a low incremental cortisol response to ACTH does not predict mortality. [33] There is still much controversy regarding how to best diagnose adrenal insufficiency in hospitalized children and adults, as well as whether and when to treat. Thus, the decision to treat a critically ill patient with glucocorticoids must be made on a case-by-case basis until further definitive evidence is available. [34]

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