Top of the page
Your adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys. They make hormones that affect almost every organ in your body.
Secondary adrenal insufficiency means that your adrenal glands don't make enough of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps maintain blood pressure. It helps break down sugar and fat for energy. It also helps manage stress.
The problem starts with the pituitary gland. It's located at the base of your brain. Normally it sends a signal to the adrenal glands to make more cortisol. The signal is a hormone that the pituitary gland makes, called ACTH. When the pituitary gland doesn't make enough ACTH, the adrenal glands won't make enough cortisol.
This can happen if the pituitary gland is damaged by things like a tumour or surgery.
Treatment involves replacing the hormones that your body needs. You might get some of these hormones in the hospital. Some people will take hormones at home for the rest of their lives. Hormones may be pills or injections (shots).
If possible, your doctor will treat the condition that damaged the pituitary gland.
Some people may need urgent care because they have what is called an adrenal crisis. It can be caused by severe infection or stress. Symptoms may include:
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter F406 in the search box to learn more about "Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency: Care Instructions".
Adaptation Date: 8/3/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 2006-2023 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.