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Adrenal Crisis Medication

  • Author: Lisa Kirkland, MD, FACP, FCCM, MSHA; Chief Editor: George T Griffing, MD  more...
Updated: Jun 29, 2016

Medication Summary

Corticosteroids are the mainstays of treatment. Other medications, such as pressors (eg, dopamine, norepinephrine) or antibiotics, are administered as clinically indicated.



Class Summary

These agents have anti-inflammatory properties and cause profound and varied metabolic effects. They modify the body's immune response to diverse stimuli.

Dexamethasone (Decadron, Baldex, Dexone)


Used as empiric treatment of shock in suspected adrenal crisis or insufficiency until serum cortisol levels are drawn.

Hydrocortisone (Hydrocortone, Hydrocort)


DOC because of mineralocorticoid activity and glucocorticoid effects.

Cortisone (Cortone)


Oral DOC for patients with adrenocortical insufficiency.

Use in patients undergoing moderate stress surgery (eg, vascular bypass, total joint replacement) who can take PO postoperatively.

Fludrocortisone (Florinef)


Acts on renal distal tubules to enhance reabsorption of sodium. Increases urinary excretion of both potassium and hydrogen ions. The consequence of these 3 primary effects, together with similar actions on cation transport in other tissues, appears to account for the spectrum of physiological activities characteristic of mineralocorticoids. Used in adrenal insufficiency. Produces marked sodium retention and increased urinary potassium excretion.

Methylprednisolone (Medrol, Solu-Medrol, Depo-Medrol)


Usually third-line DOC for adrenal crisis because of lack of mineralocorticoid activity.

Consider use in patients with fluid overload, edema, or hypokalemia.



Class Summary

These agents are potent vasoconstrictors, inotropes and chronotropes. They should be used with caution in conjunction with corticosteroids and intravenous fluid support.

Norepinephrine (Levophed)


For protracted hypotension following adequate fluid-volume replacement. Stimulates beta1- and alpha-adrenergic receptors, which in turn, increases cardiac muscle contractility and heart rate, as well as vasoconstriction. As a result, systemic blood pressure and coronary blood flow increase. After obtaining a response, the rate of flow should be adjusted and maintained at a low-normal blood pressure, such as 80-100 mm Hg systolic, sufficient to perfuse vital organs.

Dopamine (Intropin)


Stimulates both adrenergic and dopaminergic receptors. Hemodynamic effect is dependent on the dose.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Lisa Kirkland, MD, FACP, FCCM, MSHA Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hospital Medicine, Mayo Clinic; Vice Chair, Department of Critical Care, ANW Intensivists, Abbott Northwestern Hospital

Lisa Kirkland, MD, FACP, FCCM, MSHA is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, Society of Hospital Medicine, Society of Critical Care Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Chief Editor

George T Griffing, MD Professor Emeritus of Medicine, St Louis University School of Medicine

George T Griffing, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Society for Clinical Densitometry, Southern Society for Clinical Investigation, American College of Medical Practice Executives, American Association for Physician Leadership, American College of Physicians, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, American Heart Association, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

David M Klachko, MD, MEd Professor Emeritus, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine

David M Klachko, MD, MEd is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, Missouri State Medical Association, American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American Diabetes Association, American Federation for Medical Research, Endocrine Society, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Computed tomographic (CT) scans of the abdomen show normal adrenal glands several months before the onset of hemorrhage (upper panel) and enlarged adrenals 2 weeks after an acute episode of bilateral adrenal hemorrhage (lower panel). The attenuation of the adrenal glands, indicated by arrows, is increased after the acute event. Reproduced from Rao RH, Vagnucci AH, Amico JA: Bilateral massive adrenal hemorrhage: early recognition and treatment. Ann Intern Med. Feb 1 1989;110(3):227-35 with permission from the journal.
Enlarged, dense, suprarenal masses
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