OHSU

Adrenal Gland Insufficiency Caused by ACTH Deficiency

Adrenal gland insufficiency happens when your adrenal gland, a small gland near your kidneys, does not make enough of a hormone called cortisol.  

Your pituitary gland makes a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone tells your adrenal glands to release cortisol. You need cortisol to maintain healthy blood pressure. It is also important for:

  • Healthy blood pressure
  • Growth in children and teenagers
  • Kidney function
  • A healthy immune system
  • Brain function
  • Processing sugar and fat

If your pituitary gland does not make enough ACTH, your adrenal gland does not make enough cortisol. This causes a condition called adrenal insufficiency. If you don't get treatment, this can cause serious symptoms and death.  

Adrenal insufficiency can cause:  

  • Stomach pain, nausea and vomiting (especially in the morning)
  • Dizziness when you stand up
  • Loss of consciousness (passing out)

The treatment for adrenal insufficiency is a pill you take by mouth, usually hydrocortisone or prednisone. You might take medication by injection (shot).

The cortisol made by your adrenal gland helps your body cope with injury, accidents or serious illness. If you have adrenal insufficiency, you might need extra medication in an emergency. Your doctor will make a plan with you so you can get more steroid medication if you get sick or need surgery. Also, you should wear  a medical bracelet saying you have adrenal insufficiency and take steroid medication. In case of an injury, accident or sudden illness, the bracelet tells emergency workers you need extra steroids.