Addison Disease Treatment & Management

Updated: Jan 13, 2022
  • Author: George T Griffing, MD; Chief Editor: Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP  more...
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Medical Care

In patients in acute adrenal crisis, IV access should be established urgently, and an infusion of isotonic sodium chloride solution should be begun to restore volume deficit and correct hypotension. Some patients may require glucose supplementation. The precipitating cause should be sought and corrected where possible.

  • In stress situations, the normal adrenal gland output of cortisol is approximately 250-300 mg in 24 hours. This amount of hydrocortisone in soluble form (hydrocortisone sodium succinate or phosphate) should be given, preferably by continuous infusion. [51]

    • Administer 100 mg of hydrocortisone in 100 cc of isotonic sodium chloride solution by continuous IV infusion at a rate of 10-12 cc/h. Infusion may be initiated with 100 mg of hydrocortisone as an IV bolus. Some hospitals mix 300-400 mg in 1 liter saline and infuse over 24 h to avoid needing to renew the infusion every 8-10 hours.

    • An alternative method of hydrocortisone administration is 100 mg as an IV bolus every 6-8 hours.

    • The infusion method maintains plasma cortisol levels more adequately at steady stress levels, especially in the small percentage of patients who are rapid metabolizers and who may have low plasma cortisol levels between the IV boluses.

  • Clinical improvement, especially blood pressure response, should be evident within 4-6 hours of hydrocortisone infusion. Otherwise, the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency would be questionable.

  • After 2-3 days, the stress hydrocortisone dose should be reduced to 100-150 mg, infused over a 24-hour period, irrespective of the patient's clinical status. This is to avoid stress gastrointestinal bleeding.

  • As the patient improves and as the clinical situation allows, the hydrocortisone infusion can be gradually tapered over the next 4-5 days to daily replacement doses of approximately 3 mg/h (72-75 mg over 24 h) and eventually to daily oral replacement doses, when oral intake is possible.

  • As long as the patient is receiving 100 mg or more of hydrocortisone in 24 hours, no mineralocorticoid replacement is necessary. The mineralocorticoid activity of hydrocortisone in this dosage is sufficient.

  • Thereafter, as the hydrocortisone dose is weaned further, mineralocorticoid replacement should be instituted in doses equivalent to the daily adrenal gland aldosterone output of 0.05-0.20 mg every 24 hours. The usual mineralocorticoid used for this purpose is 9-alpha-fludrocortisone, usually in doses of 0.05-0.10 mg per day or every other day.

  • Patients may need to be advised to increase salt intake in hot weather.


Surgical Care

Parenteral steroid coverage should be used in times of major stress, trauma, or surgery and during any major procedure.

During surgical procedures, 100 mg of hydrocortisone should be given, preferably by the IM route, prior to the start of a continuous IV infusion. The IM dose of hydrocortisone assures steroid coverage in case of problems with the IV access.

  • When continuous IV infusion is not practical, an intermittent IV bolus injection every 6-8 hours may be used.

  • After the procedure, the hydrocortisone may be rapidly tapered within 24-36 hours to the usual replacement doses, or as gradually as the clinical situation dictates.

  • Mineralocorticoid replacement usually can be withheld until the patient resumes daily replacement steroids.



Whenever possible, an endocrinologist should be involved in both the acute care and on-going treatment of these patients.