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Clinical practice

Adrenal Crisis Information 


Information and links for health care professionals on acute adrenal insufficiency, also termed adrenal crisis, a life-threatening endocrine emergency.

Diagnostic measures should never delay treatment and if adrenal crisis is suspected, treatment should be initiated WITHOUT DELAY.

Short-term administration of high doses of glucocorticoids is never harmful but failure to treat adrenal crisis can result in the death of the patient.

If you suspect established or developing adrenal crisis in a patient:

  • Please immediately inject 100mg hydrocortisone sodium succinate i.v. or i.m. followed by rapid rehydration with i.v. administration of 0.9% saline solution (or equivalent).

  • Please maintain the patient on hydrocortisone at a dose of 200mg hydrocortisone sodium succinate per 24 hours (preferably by continuous i.v. infusion, alternatively by i.v. or i.m. injection of 50mg hydrocortisone every 6 hours) until clinical recovery and further guidance by an endocrinologist.

Adrenal crisis can be a manifestation of previously undiagnosed adrenal failure.

Adrenal crisis can also occur in patients with known adrenal insufficiency if existing cortisol replacement does not meet the increased need for cortisol, e.g. due to illness with fever, persistent vomiting or diarrhoea, trauma or childbirth. Preparation for invasive diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopy and surgery requiring general anaesthesia are further risk factors for adrenal crises. 

To prevent adrenal crisis in all these situations, hydrocortisone needs to be administered and maintained as per above.

Do not hesitate to give high doses of hydrocortisone to a pregnant woman; hydrocortisone is inactivated in the placenta and does NOT affect the unborn baby. However, failure to treat a pregnant woman with adrenal insufficiency can result in death of mother and/or loss of the child.

In children, the initial hydrocortisone emergency injection should be given at a dose of 50mg/m2 body surface, followed by appropriate fluid resuscitation and 50 mg/m2/24h in infants and toddlers and 100 mg/m2/24h for school age children.


Guidance for emergency management of adrenal crisis in adults


Professor Wiebke Arlt
Chair, SfE Clinical Committee
20 July 2016


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