Adrenal insufficiency in critically ill emergency department patients: A Taiwan preliminary study

S. S. Chang, S. J. Liaw, M. J. Bullard, T. F. Chiu, J. C. Chen, H. C. Liao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Unrecognized adrenal insufficiency can have serious consequences in critically ill emergency department (ED) patients. This prospective pilot study of adrenal function in patients with severe illness was undertaken to determine the prevalence of adrenal dysfunction and any relation to prior herbal drug use. Methods: In a high-volume urban tertiary care ED, adult patients with sepsis or acute myocardial infarction (AMI) were eligible for the study. Over a two-month period, a convenience sample was enrolled by the authors on arrival to the ED. Inclusion criteria were systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) criteria plus evidence of at least one organ dysfunction' or cardiac marker plus electrocardiogram-proven AMI. Exclusion criteria included known corticosteroid use. Serum cortisol was measured on arrival and for those patients with a level of <15 μg/dL (<414 nmol/L), an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test was performed. Results: Of the 30 enrolled patients, 23 (77%) were suffering from severe sepsis and the other seven (23%) had an AMI. Thirteen of the 30 patients (43%; 95% CI = 25% to 65%) had serum cortisol levels of <15 μg/dL, consistent with adrenal insufficiency, nine with severe sepsis and four with an AMI. Eight (62%; 95% CI = 32% to 86%) of the 13 patients with low cortisol levels reported using herbal medications, while only two (12%; 95% CI = 1% to 36%) of the 17 with normal cortisol levels reported taking herb drugs (p = 0.01). Only two (15%; 95% CI = 2% to 45%) of the patients with low cortisol levels failed their corticotropin stimulation test, suggestive of true adrenocortical insufficiency. Both reported using herbal preparations. Conclusions: These results indicate that adrenal dysfunction is common among a group of critically ill patients seen in this Taiwanese ED. Moreover, the use of herbal drugs was high in the patients with low serum cortisols. Further studies are required to both confirm these findings and clarify whether a number of herbal medications contain corticosteroids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-764
Number of pages4
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • Cortisol
  • Hypofunction, adrenal gland
  • Medicine, herbal
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Sepsis syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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