The overnight dexamethasone test is a worthwhile screening procedure

Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1990 Jul;33(1):27-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2265.1990.tb00462.x.


The overnight low-dose dexamethasone test is a convenient screening procedure for Cushing's syndrome. Claims that the test is associated with a high incidence of 'false positives', rendering it of little value particularly in obese and hospital in-patients, have been investigated in the present study. The data from 100 consecutive subjects undergoing overnight low-dose dexamethasone tests to examine for the possibility of Cushing's syndrome, were reviewed. Cushing's syndrome was identified in four patients, normal suppression of cortisol values occurred in 84 patients and 12 patients exhibited false positive results. Differences in body weights, body mass indices or in-patient status did not distinguish between those subjects with normal suppression of plasma cortisol and those subjects who yielded false positive results. These data indicate that the simple overnight dexamethasone test substituted for the more cumbersome traditional 48-h dexamethasone test in 84 of 96 patients who did not have Cushing's syndrome. Thus the overnight test provides a useful screening procedure but a small percentage of patients, approximately 12.5%, will require additional procedures to exclude Cushing's syndrome.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Cushing Syndrome / blood
  • Cushing Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Dexamethasone* / administration & dosage
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Dexamethasone
  • Hydrocortisone