Delayed Onset of Central Hypocortisolism in a Patient Recovering From COVID-19

AACE Clin Case Rep. Jan-Feb 2021;7(1):2-5. doi: 10.1016/j.aace.2020.11.001. Epub 2020 Dec 28.


Objective: The objective of this report is to highlight the possible but little-known association between coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and delayed onset of central hypocortisolism, which may be of significant clinical importance.

Methods: We describe a patient who developed new-onset central hypocortisolism in the convalescent phase of mild COVID-19, which has not been previously reported.

Results: A 47-year-old man with recent COVID-19 upper respiratory tract infection developed new-onset persistent dyspepsia and eosinophilia for which multiple investigations were normal. He was eventually diagnosed with central hypocortisolism, as evidenced by 8 AM cortisol level of 19 nmol/L (normal, 133-537 nmol/L) and adrenocorticotropic hormone of 7.1 ng/mL (normal, 10.0-60.0 ng/mL). He was started on hydrocortisone, which led to resolution of both dyspepsia and eosinophilia. At the same time, an interesting thyroid function trend was observed-an initial increase in both free thyroxine and thyroid stimulating hormone was followed by temporary central hypothyroidism before subsequent spontaneous recovery. On follow-up 3 weeks later, the patient remained hypocortisolemic.

Conclusion: COVID-19 may be associated with the delayed onset of central hypocortisolism in its convalescent phase. Although various mechanisms are possible, hypothalamic-pituitary activation during systemic illness, followed by a rebound decrease in activity after recovery, is consistent with the clinical course and thyroid function trend in this patient. It is essential that physicians consider endocrinopathies in the differential diagnosis of such cases, given the risk of life-threatening adrenal crises and their possible contribution to persistent symptoms following recovery from COVID-19.

Keywords: ACTH, Adrenocorticotropic hormone; COVID-19; COVID-19, coronavirus disease 2019; SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome; TFT, thyroid function test; TSH, thyroid stimulating hormone; URTI, upper respiratory tract infection; central hypocortisolism; fT4, Free thyroxine; hypocortisolism.

Publication types

  • Case Reports