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Allgrove (AAA) Syndrome Workup

  • Author: Robert J Ferry, Jr, MD; Chief Editor: Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD  more...
Updated: Dec 18, 2015

Laboratory Studies

Assess adrenal function in patients with Allgrove (AAA) syndrome. Patients who present with the combination of achalasia and alacrima should undergo a complete evaluation of their pituitary-adrenal axis to exclude adrenal insufficiency. Incidence of glucocorticoid deficiency in patients with isolated achalasia is low, and endocrine evaluation is not warranted unless symptoms consistent with glucocorticoid deficiency are present. Because no such data are available for patients with isolated alacrima, other clinical features must guide testing in this population. In patients with symptoms of cortisol deficiency or combined alacrima and achalasia, draw baseline adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol values and perform an ACTH stimulation test to assess adrenal function.

Esophageal motility tests are pertinent in patients presenting with dysphagia, food regurgitation, or both.

Determine serum sodium, potassium, aldosterone, and renin levels. Although aldosterone levels are usually normal in 4A syndrome, several cases of mineralocorticoid deficiency have been reported.

The presence of plasma antiadrenal antibodies should direct the investigation to the possibility of Addison disease.

Look for normal plasma very long chain fatty acids (hexa-eicosanoate) to exclude adrenoleukodystrophy.

If malnutrition is present, a comprehensive metabolic panel and CBC count are warranted.

For patients presenting with a seizure, obtain a baseline serum glucose concentration and perform a lumbar puncture.

Although none of the above tests are specific for Allgrove syndrome, they may provide clues for making this diagnosis.


Imaging Studies

MRI or CT scanning of the head (if neurologic problems are observed)

Patients frequently reveal atrophic lacrimal glands on computed tomography (CT) of the orbits.

If the patient presents with a seizure, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain is useful to exclude other causes of new-onset seizures.

Abdominal CT scanning may reveal cortical atrophy of the adrenal glands, similar to that observed with primary adrenal insufficiency. However, this is typically not necessary to make the diagnosis.

Barium esophagography, esophageal manometry, and endoscopy

Various methods are used to demonstrate achalasia of the esophagus.

Perhaps the most readily available and commonly used test is barium esophagography, although esophageal manometry[9] and endoscopy are also used.

Barium esophagography typically demonstrates a dilated esophagus with minimal, if any, peristaltic movement. The meal frequently passes slowly through a tight lower esophageal sphincter.


Other Tests

Brainstem auditory evoked response

Numerous investigators have demonstrated hearing deficits associated with Allgrove syndrome. Brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing is useful in determining which patients have hearing deficits. Both normal and abnormal responses compatible with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss are found.

Autonomic testing

Investigation of the autonomic nervous system, including tilt-table and heart rate variability testing, is useful in demonstrating and following autonomic dysfunction.[16] Many patients have diminished heart rate variability and exaggerated orthostatic responses on tilt-table. Formal pupillometry, when available, may demonstrate anisocoria and slowed constriction velocity.

Ophthalmologic evaluation for lacrimal dysfunction

Ophthalmologic testing is warranted in children with Allgrove syndrome.

A Schirmer test provides a semiquantitative measure of tearing. It consists of placing a standardized test strip in the conjunctival sac and measuring the wetting of this strip over a 5-minute interval. Less than 10 mm of wetting during this time is defined as alacrima.

Other ophthalmologic testing, including slit lamp examination and fluorescein staining, is helpful to identify patients with corneal pathology secondary to poor lacrimation.

Neurologic evaluation

A complete neurologic evaluation and developmental study may highlight the impaired neurologic and developmental function associated with this syndrome. Palatopharyngeal incompetence, sensory impairment, ataxia, and muscle weakness are among the documented findings.


Histologic Findings

A lacrimal gland biopsy from a child with Allgrove syndrome was examined with an electron microscope. Evidence of neuronal degeneration associated with depletion of secretory granules in the acinar cells was present. The reduced or absent lacrimation that accompanies this change frequently leads to the dehydration-induced keratopathy observed with rose Bengal staining.

CT scanning reveals atrophic adrenal glands, but no published cases of histologic analysis have been reported. As with all states of ACTH unresponsiveness, one may expect to see atrophy of the zona fasciculata; however, other changes more specific to this syndrome may have yet to be described.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Robert J Ferry, Jr, MD Professor, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Department of Pediatrics, University of Tennessee Health Science Center

Robert J Ferry, Jr, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Received research funds for: Eli Lilly & Co.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Barry B Bercu, MD Professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology, University of South Florida College of Medicine, All Children's Hospital

Barry B Bercu, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Medical Association, American Pediatric Society, Association of Clinical Scientists, Endocrine Society, Florida Medical Association, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Southern Society for Pediatric Research, Society for the Study of Reproduction, American Federation for Clinical Research, Pituitary Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD Former Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Pediatric Endocrinology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine, Arkansas Children's Hospital

Stephen Kemp, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American Pediatric Society, Endocrine Society, Phi Beta Kappa, Southern Medical Association, Southern Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Phyllis W Speiser, MD Chief, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York; Professor of Pediatrics, Hofstra-North Shore LIJ School of Medicine at Hofstra University

Phyllis W Speiser, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, Endocrine Society, Pediatric Endocrine Society, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Jacalyn Bishop, MD Pediatric Endocrinologist, Private Practice

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Bruce A Boston, MD Chief, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Director, Pediatric Endocrine Training Program, Doernbecher Children's Hospital; Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine

Bruce A Boston, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Diabetes Association, Endocrine Society, and Pediatric Endocrine Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Daniel L Marks, MD, PhD Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Oregon Health Sciences University and Doerenbecher Children's Hospital

Daniel L Marks, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics and Oregon Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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