Association Between Aldosterone and Hypertension Among Patients With Overt and Subclinical Hypercortisolism

Kosuke Inoue; Hirofumi Horikoshi; Masao Omura; Yuya Tsurutani; Jun Saito; Tetsuo Nishikawa


J Endo Soc. 2023;7(1) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Introduction: Hypertension is one of the most common clinical features of patients with overt and subclinical hypercortisolism. Although previous studies have shown the coexistence of autonomous cortisol and aldosterone secretion, it is unclear whether aldosterone plays a role in hypertension among patients with hypercortisolism. Therefore, we examined the associations of plasma aldosterone concentrations (PACs) with hypertension among patients with overt and subclinical hypercortisolism.

Methods: This single-center retrospective cohort study included patients with adrenal tumor and serum cortisol levels after 1-mg dexamethasone suppression test >1.8 μg/dL (50 nmol/L). Using multivariable regression models adjusting for baseline characteristics, we investigated the association of PACs with systolic blood pressure and postoperative improvement of hypertension after the adrenalectomy.

Results: Among 89 patients enrolled in this study (median age, 51 years), 21 showed clinical signs of Cushing syndrome (overt hypercortisolism) and 68 did not show clinical presentations (subclinical hypercortisolism). We found that higher PACs were significantly associated with elevated systolic blood pressure among patients with subclinical hypercortisolism (adjusted difference [95% CI] = +0.59 [0.19–0.99], P = 0.008) but not among those with overt hypercortisolism. Among 33 patients with subclinical hypercortisolism and hypertension who underwent adrenalectomy, the postoperative improvement of hypertension was significantly associated with higher PACs at baseline (adjusted risk difference [95% CI] = +1.45% [0.35–2.55], P = 0.01).

Conclusion: These findings indicate that aldosterone may contribute to hypertension among patients with subclinical hypercortisolism. Further multi-institutional and population-based studies are required to validate our findings and examine the clinical effectiveness of the intervention targeting aldosterone for such patients.


Cortisol production in the adrenal gland is regulated by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Subclinical hypercortisolism is a status characterized by the alteration of HPA axis secretion without typical signs or symptoms of overt hypercortisolism (eg, moon face, truncal obesity, easy bruising, thin extremities, proximal myopathy, cutaneous purple striae).[1,2] Although overt hypercortisolism can be detected by its clinical presentations or severe complications, it is sometimes challenging for clinicians to appropriately diagnose subclinical hypercortisolism because of the absence of such clinical presentations.[2] The 1-mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test (1-mg DST) measures the response of the adrenal glands to ACTH through the HPA axis and therefore has been widely used for screening and diagnosis of subclinical hypercortisolism.[1,3] The European Society of Endocrinology Guideline has defined a partial suppression of the HPA axis (ie, serum cortisol levels after 1-mg DST [F-DST] > 1.8 μg/dL [50 nmol/L]) without clinical signs of overt cortisol hypersecretion as "possible autonomous cortisol secretion" and recommended screening these patients for metabolic disorders including hypertension and type 2 diabetes mellitus to offer appropriate treatment of these comorbidities.[4]

Hypertension is one of the most common and distinguishing clinical features in patients with subclinical hypercortisolism[2] as well as overt hypercortisolism.[5] Although hypertension can be triggered by excess cortisol levels,[5,6] it is still unclear whether even slightly elevated cortisol levels among individuals with subclinical hypercortisolism contribute to the occurrence of hypertension. This raises another potential mechanism to cause hypertension such as the coexistence of hyperaldosteronism (ie, excess aldosterone that is an essential steroid hormone for sodium reabsorption, water retention, and blood pressure control).[7] Previous studies have reported that 10% to 20% of primary aldosteronism is accompanied by cortisol-producing adenoma,[8–10] and autonomous cortisol secretion was decreased after the resection of the aldosterone-producing adenoma (a subtype of primary aldosteronism).[11] Furthermore, a previous mass spectrometry-based analysis revealed that cortisol secretion was frequently found in patients with primary aldosteronism.[12] Although these studies have examined cortisol biosynthesis in primary aldosteronism,[13] evidence about whether aldosterone plays a role in the occurrence of hypertension among people with subclinical hypercortisolism is limited.

To address this knowledge gap, we performed a cohort study examining the association between aldosterone and hypertension among patients with adrenal tumor and F-DST >1.8 μg/dL, stratified by whether patients had clinical signs of Cushing syndrome or not. We first analyzed the cross-sectional association between aldosterone and blood pressure at baseline. Then, we analyzed the longitudinal association between aldosterone at baseline and the improvement rate of hypertension after the adrenalectomy. Last, to further clarify the role of aldosterone in the regulation of blood pressure in subclinical hypercortisolism, we described the difference in aldosterone response to ACTH after the adrenalectomy according to the postoperative improvement of hypertension.