Subclinical hypercortisolism (SH), defined as alterations of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis in the absence of clinical signs or symptoms related to cortisol secretion, is a common finding in patients with adrenal incidentalomas. The clinical correlates of this pathological condition have become clearer over the last few years. The aim of this review is to summarize the co-morbidities and the clinical outcomes of patients with SH. According to the analysis of the results of the studies published within the last 15 years, hypertension and type 2 diabetes are a common finding in patients with SH, occurring roughly in 2/3 and 1/3 of the patients respectively. Moreover, several additional cardiovascular and metabolic complications, like endothelial damage, increased visceral fat accumulation and impaired lipid metabolism have been shown to increase the cardiovascular risk of those patients. Accordingly, recent independent reports investigating the natural history of the disease in a long-term follow-up setting have shown that patients with SH have a higher incidence of cardiovascular events and related mortality. Moreover, longitudinal studies have also shown increased incidence of osteoporotic vertebral fractures. Future research is needed to improve the diagnostic performance of hormonal tests, by assessment of the complete steroid profile with more accurate assays, and to define the efficacy of surgical vs medical treatment in a randomized-controlled setting.
© 2015 European Society of Endocrinology.