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Adrenal Crisis Treatment & Management

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

Medical Care

See the list below:

  • Administration of glucocorticoids in supraphysiologic or stress doses is the only definitive therapy.[9, 10]
    • Dexamethasone does not interfere with serum cortisol assay and, thus, may be the initial drug of choice. However, because dexamethasone has little mineralocorticoid activity, fluid and electrolyte replacement are essential.
    • A short ACTH stimulation test may be performed during resuscitation. Once complete, hydrocortisone 100 mg IV every 6 hours is the preferred treatment to provide mineralocorticoid support.
    • Delaying glucocorticoid replacement therapy while awaiting the results of the ACTH stimulation test is inappropriate and dangerous.
  • In addition to corticosteroid replacement, aggressive fluid replacement with 5% or 10% intravenous dextrose and saline solutions and treatment of hyperkalemia is mandatory. Fludrocortisone, a mineralocorticoid, may also be given.
  • A thorough search for a precipitating cause and administration of empiric antibiotics is indicated. Reversal of coagulopathy should be attempted with fresh frozen plasma.
  • Pressors (eg, dopamine, norepinephrine) may be necessary to combat hypotension.


See the list below:

  • Endocrinologist
  • Infectious disease specialist
  • Critical care physician
  • Cardiologist
  • Surgeon
  • Other consultations as clinically indicated
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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