Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis suppression in asthmatic children on inhaled corticosteroids: part 1. Which test should be used?

Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2007 Aug;18(5):401-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-3038.2007.00540.x. Epub 2007 Jun 11.


The effect of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) has been regarded as a 'benign physiological response'. A recent survey suggests that adrenal crisis might be more common in asthmatic children on ICS than previously thought. The clinical features of adrenal insufficiency are non-specific and can easily be missed. Accurate biochemical assessment of the axis is therefore mandatory. A review of the literature determined that all basal adrenal function tests, including plasma cortisol profiles, cannot identify which children can respond to stress. There is no evidence to suggests that the degree of the physiological adjustment of the HPA to ICS predicts clinically significant HPA suppression. Only gold standard adrenal function tests can assess the integrity of the whole axis. Of the two available tests, the correctly performed overnight metyrapone test (with ACTH levels) is safe and better by far. The use of cortisol profiles should only be used to demonstrate differences in systemic activity of various ICS and delivery devices. Regulatory bodies should insist on trials that evaluate the HPA with a gold standard adrenal function test before it is declared safe and allowed to be marketed. A re-analysis of studies that have utilized gold standard adrenal function tests only might identify the lowest safe dose and duration of ICS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenal Cortex Function Tests*
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use*
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / drug effects*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal Function Tests*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / drug effects*


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones