The plasma cortisol and corticotropin response to hypoglycemia following adrenal steroid and ACTH administration

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1975 Jul;41(1):1-6. doi: 10.1210/jcem-41-1-1.


The plasma cortisol response to hypoglycemia is widely used as a test of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function. It was the aim of this study to determine whether this test gives a reliable indication of pituitary corticotropin (ACTH) release in patients recovering from adrenocortical suppression due to corticosteroid or ACTH therapy. The 16 patients who were studied (6 on more than one occasion) had received in excess of 5 mg predinisone or equivalent daily for over 12 months. The insulin tolerance tests were carried out 18 h after stopping steroid therapy. The tests were then repeated three to four days after adrenal function had been restored (as indicated by urinary oxogenic steroid excretion of greater than 35 mg/24 h) by zinc tetracosactrin administration. The ACTH response to hypoglycemia was significantly impaired in the steroid-treated group. However with the exception of one patient who had persistently elevated resting ACTH levels there was a significant correlation (P less than 0.01) between the maximum increments in plasma cortisol and ACTH during hypoglycemia. No significant difference in sensitivity to endogenous ACTH could be demonstrated between the steroid-treated group and 12 normal control subjects. Following ACTH administration the plasma ACTH and growth hormone responses to hypoglycemia were significantly reduced, but the response in plasma cortisol was not significantly affected. It is concluded that the plasma cortisol response to hypoglycemia gives a useful indication of ACTH release in steroid-treated patients provided that they have not recently received exogenous ACTH.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood*
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / therapeutic use*
  • Adult
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Depression, Chemical
  • Female
  • Growth Hormone / blood
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hypoglycemia / blood*
  • Hypoglycemia / chemically induced
  • Insulin / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prednisone / therapeutic use*


  • Blood Glucose
  • Insulin
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Growth Hormone
  • Prednisone
  • Hydrocortisone