How is an Addisonian crisis diagnosed?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner
In patients suspected of having an Addisonian crisis, health professionals must immediately begin treatment with injections of salt, glucose-containing fluids, and glucocorticoid hormones. Although a reliable diagnosis may not be possible during crisis treatment, the measurement of blood adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol during the crisis -- before glucocorticoids are given -- is enough to make a preliminary diagnosis. Low blood sodium, low blood glucose, and high blood potassium are also usually present at the time of an adrenal crisis. Once the crisis is controlled, the ACTH stimulation test can be performed to obtain the specific diagnosis. More complex laboratory tests are sometimes used if the diagnosis remains unclear.

Once a diagnosis of Addison's disease is made, radiologic studies such as an X-ray or ultrasound of the abdomen may be taken to see if the adrenals have any signs of calcium deposits. Calcium deposits may indicate bleeding in the adrenal gland or TB, for which a tuberculin skin test also may be used. Blood tests can detect antibodies associated with autoimmune Addison's disease.

If secondary adrenal insufficiency is diagnosed, doctors may use different imaging tools to reveal the size and shape of the pituitary gland. The most common is a computed tomography (CT) scan, which produces a series of X-ray pictures giving cross-sectional images. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may also be used to produce a 3-D image of this region. The function of the pituitary and its ability to produce other hormones are also assessed with blood tests.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Continue Learning about Addison's Disease

How is Addison's disease related to tuberculosis (TB)?
Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhDDr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Tuberculosis (TB), an infection that can destroy the adrenal glands, accounts for less than 20 perce...
More Answers
How common is Addison's disease?
Diana MeeksDiana Meeks
Addison's disease affects about one to four in every 100,000 people. It affects an equal number of m...
More Answers
How is Addison's disease different from other adrenal disorders?
Diana MeeksDiana Meeks
There are two main types of adrenal disorders: primary and secondary. Addison's disease is also know...
More Answers
Why Do People Crave Salt?
Why Do People Crave Salt?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.