Diagnosis and Management of Adrenal Insufficiency and Adrenal Crisis in the Emergency Department



      Adrenal insufficiency can result in significant patient morbidity and mortality, but due to the range of symptoms and variable clinical course and etiologies, it can be a challenging condition to diagnose and manage.


      This narrative review will discuss the evaluation of an adult patient at risk for a new diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency and the management of a patient with known or suspected adrenal insufficiency.


      A new presentation of adrenal insufficiency can range from nonspecific, minor symptoms including fatigue, to a life-threatening adrenal crisis with hemodynamic instability. Due to the variety of signs and symptoms, the diagnosis is often missed. Those with known adrenal insufficiency are at risk for adrenal crisis, which may occur due to a variety of triggers. Initial evaluation includes assessment for the underlying etiology or concomitant condition, laboratory analysis, and imaging, when clinically indicated. Although not necessary for evaluation in the emergency department setting, the diagnosis is confirmed by specific testing such as the cosyntropin stimulation test. The mainstay of treatment in adrenal crisis is hydrocortisone, intravenous fluid, glucose repletion, and treatment of the underlying acute trigger.


      Emergency clinicians must be prepared to recognize, evaluate, and manage those with known or suspected adrenal insufficiency or adrenal crisis.


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