Waterhouse-Friderichsen Syndrome with Bilateral Adrenal Hemorrhage Associated with Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Bacteremia in an Adult Patient with History of Intravenous Drug Use

Am J Case Rep. 2022 Apr 14:23:e936096. doi: 10.12659/AJCR.936096.


BACKGROUND Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome, also known as acute adrenal insufficiency due to adrenal gland hemorrhage, is an uncommon and frequently fatal condition classically presenting with fever, shock, rash, and coagulopathy. Although most often associated with Meningococcemia, many other etiologies have been implicated, including reports of Staphylococcus aureus infection on autopsy examinations. This report details an adult intravenous drug user with adrenal hemorrhage associated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteremia. CASE REPORT A 58-year-old man with a history of intravenous drug use presented to the hospital with weakness. Vitals were initially normal and exam findings were notable for decreased right-sided motor strength. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a cervical epidural abscess with spinal cord compression. Despite initiation of broad-spectrum antibiotics and intravenous fluids, the patient progressed to shock, requiring vasopressor administration, and his blood cultures later grew MRSA. Further imaging of the abdomen/pelvis was completed, revealing bilateral adrenal hemorrhage. Random cortisol at that time was 5.6 µg/dL, confirming a diagnosis of critical illness-related corticosteroid insufficiency in addition to likely septic and spinal shock. The patient was initiated on hydrocortisone with improvement in his hypotension. He was transitioned to prednisone and fludrocortisone in addition to 8 weeks of antibiotics after achieving clinical stability. CONCLUSIONS This report brings to attention the risk of adrenal hemorrhage and acute adrenal insufficiency as a sequela of the relatively common illness of Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia. As symptoms of adrenal insufficiency can overlap with septic shock related to the primary condition, this diagnosis requires a high index of suspicion in the critically ill patient.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Diseases* / complications
  • Adrenal Gland Diseases* / drug therapy
  • Adrenal Insufficiency* / complications
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteremia* / complications
  • Bacteremia* / drug therapy
  • Hemorrhage / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus*
  • Middle Aged
  • Staphylococcal Infections* / complications
  • Staphylococcal Infections* / drug therapy
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous* / complications
  • Waterhouse-Friderichsen Syndrome* / complications
  • Waterhouse-Friderichsen Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Waterhouse-Friderichsen Syndrome* / drug therapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents