Hypocortisolism in survivors of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)

Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2005 Aug;63(2):197-202. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2265.2005.02325.x.


Objective: Following the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, many survivors were observed to suffer from psychosomatic symptoms reminiscent of various endocrine disorders. Hence, we sought to determine the existence of any chronic endocrine sequelae in SARS survivors.

Design, patients, measurements: Sixty-one survivors of SARS prospectively recruited were analysed for hormonal derangements 3 months following recovery. Patients with pre-existing endocrine disorders were excluded. Any endocrine abnormalities diagnosed were investigated and treated where indicated up to a year. Serial evaluation facilitated characterization of trends and prognostication of any endocrinological aberrations.

Results: Twenty-four (39.3%) patients had evidence of hypocortisolism. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction of the majority resolved within a year. Two (3.3%) of the hypocortisolic cohort had transient subclinical thyrotoxicosis. Four (6.7%) were biochemically hypothyroid, being comprised of three with central hypothyroidism and one with primary hypothyroidism. Two of the three with central hypothyroidism had concomitant central hypocortisolism. Eight had subnormal DHEAS levels.

Conclusions: These preliminary findings highlight a possible aetiologic role of SARS-associated coronavirus in causing a reversible hypophysitis or direct hypothalamic effect, with the HPA axis affected more frequently than the HPT axis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood
  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hydrocortisone / therapeutic use
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Methylprednisolone / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Prednisolone / therapeutic use
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / blood
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Thyroid Diseases / blood
  • Thyroid Diseases / complications
  • Thyroid Diseases / physiopathology


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Prednisolone
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Methylprednisolone