Diagnosis and therapy surveillance in Addison's disease: rapid adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) test and measurement of plasma ACTH, renin activity, and aldosterone

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1992 Jul;75(1):259-64. doi: 10.1210/jcem.75.1.1320051.


The rapid ACTH injection test is an indirect screening test for adrenocortical insufficiency. As a supplement to this test, we evaluated the practicability of single measurements of plasma cortisol, ACTH, aldosterone, and PRA as a definitive diagnostic test of primary adrenocortical insufficiency (PAI). We also tested the value of PRA measurements during treatment with hydro- and fludrocortisone (HC and FC) as a guide for correct mineralocorticoid substitution. In 45 patients with PAI, results of the rapid ACTH test and single measurements of the four hormones (all tests between 0800-0900 h) were compared. Single hormone measurements were also made in 55 normal subjects and 46 patients with pituitary disease (cortisol and ACTH only), most of them with mild to severe secondary adrenocortical insufficiency (SAI). The rapid ACTH test was abnormal in 100% of 41 patients with PAI tested. Plasma ACTH, PRA, and the ratios of ACTH/cortisol and PRA/plasma or urinary aldosterone were clearly elevated in 100% of the patients with PAI. The ACTH/cortisol ratio also distinguished 100% of patients with PAI from those with SAI, but not always control subjects from those with SAI. Thus, dynamic tests (CRH or insulin tests) are indicated if SAI is suspected. PAI and involvement of zona fasciculata and glomerulosa function can be diagnosed with high reliability by measuring cortisol, ACTH, aldosterone, and PRA either together with the rapid ACTH test or later, after a short interval of steroid substitution. PRA measurements during treatment with HC and FC correlated better with the mineralocorticoid dose than plasma potassium and sodium levels. PRA measurement is a valuable guide for FC replacement therapy. It should be titrated into the upper normal range to avoid under- and overtreatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Addison Disease / blood
  • Addison Disease / diagnosis*
  • Addison Disease / drug therapy
  • Adrenal Cortex / physiology
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Aldosterone / blood
  • Aldosterone / urine
  • Female
  • Fludrocortisone / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Male
  • Potassium / blood
  • Renin / blood
  • Sodium / blood


  • Aldosterone
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Sodium
  • Renin
  • Potassium
  • Fludrocortisone
  • Hydrocortisone