How is congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) managed in infants and children?

Updated: Oct 06, 2020
  • Author: Thomas A Wilson, MD; Chief Editor: Sasigarn A Bowden, MD  more...
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Infants with ambiguous genitalia should be closely observed for symptoms and signs of salt wasting while a diagnosis is being established. Clinical clues include abnormal weight loss or lack of expected weight gain. Electrolyte abnormalities generally take from a few days to 3 weeks to appear because the placenta maintains the fetal electrolytes in utero. In mild forms of salt-wasting adrenal hyperplasia, salt wasting may not become apparent until an illness stresses the child.

  • Patients with dehydration, hyponatremia, or hyperkalemia and a possible salt-wasting form of adrenal hyperplasia should receive an intravenous (IV) bolus of isotonic sodium chloride solution (20 mL/kg or 450 mL/m2) over the first hour, as needed, to restore their intravascular volume and blood pressure.

    • This dosage may be repeated if the blood pressure remains low.

    • Dextrose must be administered if the patient is hypoglycemic and must be included in the rehydration fluid after the bolus dose to prevent hypoglycemia.

    • After samples are obtained to measure electrolyte, blood sugar, cortisol, aldosterone, and 17-hydroxyprogesterone concentrations, the patient should be treated with glucocorticoids based on suspected adrenal insufficiency. Treatment should not be withheld while confirmatory results are awaited because it may be life preserving (see Medication).

  • After the patient's condition is stabilized, treat all patients who have adrenal hyperplasia with long-term glucocorticoid or aldosterone replacement (or both), depending on which enzyme is involved and on whether cortisol and/or aldosterone synthesis is affected.

  • Another approach currently under investigation is the combined use of glucocorticoid (to suppress ACTH and adrenal androgen production), mineralocorticoid (to reduce angiotensin II concentrations), aromatase inhibitor (to slow skeletal maturation), and flutamide (an androgen blocker to reduce virilization).

  • Some patients develop precocious puberty, which further compromises adult height. Suppression of puberty with long-acting gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists while simultaneously stimulating growth with growth hormone may partially improve the patient's height. [19, 20]

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