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Adrenal Insufficiency in Children


Adrenal insufficiency is a condition that develops when your child's adrenal glands do not make enough adrenal hormones. Adrenal hormones such as cortisol help your child's body handle stress, keep blood pressure normal, and balance salt and fluids. They control how his body uses sugars, fats, and proteins. An adrenal crisis happens when your child's cortisol and aldosterone levels suddenly drop. This may lead to low blood pressure, dehydration, and low blood sugar. An adrenal crisis is life-threatening and needs immediate treatment in a hospital. An adrenal crisis can happen if your child suddenly stops taking his or her medicine. It can also happen when his or her body is under more stress than usual. This may happen during surgery, an illness, or trauma.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that your child may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your child's medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done to your child. Make sure all of your questions are answered.

Heart monitor:

This is also called an ECG or EKG. Sticky pads placed on your child's skin record the electrical activity of his heart.


is a small tube placed in your child's vein that is used to give medicine or liquids.

Vital signs:

Healthcare providers will check your child's blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask you or your child about his pain. These vital signs give information about your child's current health.

Your child's weight may be checked

each day. Healthcare providers compare your child's weight from day to day. This helps healthcare providers see how much body fluid your child has. If your child loses too much body fluid he or she can become dehydrated. If he or she has too much body fluid, he or she may have trouble breathing and become swollen. Your child's body does not work well when it has too much or too little fluid.

Steroid medicine

helps balance the steroid hormones levels your child's adrenals naturally make. This medicine may help your child feel better, but may also have unwanted effects. He or she may need to take this medicine for the rest of his or her life. You may need to change how much medicine he or she takes if he or she is ill or has increased stress. Ask your child's healthcare provider when to increase his or her medicine. Do not stop giving this medicine to your child without talking to your healthcare provider. Stopping on your own may cause him or her to have a very bad response.


  • Blood tests are used to measure hormone levels and to check for health problems his or her adrenal insufficiency may be causing.
  • Urine tests are used tested to measure the amount of adrenal hormones it contains.
  • Chemical stimulation tests are done 2 times to test your child's blood. The first time it is tested to measure the hormone levels. Then he or she is given a shot of chemicals to cause his adrenal glands to make hormones. His or her blood is tested a second time to see if the hormone levels increased.
  • Genetic screening may be done to see if your child has abnormal genes that are causing the condition. This will also give your child's healthcare provider more information on how to treat the condition.
  • Ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI pictures may be used to check the size of your child's adrenal glands. They may also be used to check your child's adrenal glands for cancer, bleeding, or infection. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help the adrenal glands show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the provider if your child has any metal in or on his or her body.


  • IV liquids may be given to keep the fluid balance in your child's body normal.
  • Sodium chloride (salt) may be given to infants with adrenal insufficiency because they may lose body salt through their sweat or urine. The salt must be replaced right away for his or her body to work well. Salt supplements may also be given because formula and breast milk may not have enough. They may be given daily as ordered by his or her healthcare provider.


Adrenal insufficiency that is not treated can lead to a life-threatening condition called adrenal crisis. Adrenal crisis can make your child lose too much fluid, drop his blood pressure, and put him or her into a coma.


You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Adrenal Insufficiency in Children (Inpatient Care)

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Further information

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