Cortisol secretion and abnormalities of glucose metabolism in nondiabetic patients with hypertension

J Hypertens. 2024 Feb 1;42(2):227-235. doi: 10.1097/HJH.0000000000003590. Epub 2023 Oct 5.


Objective: Glycometabolic changes are associated with hypercortisolism in Cushing's syndrome. Because impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and insulin resistance are frequently detected in patients with essential hypertension, we hypothesized that in these patients, early glycometabolic abnormalities might be related to differences in regulation of cortisol secretion.

Methods: In a cross-sectional study, we included 155 nondiabetic, essential hypertensive patients who were free of organ complications. The homeostasis model assessment (HOMA) index and the area under the curve of plasma glucose (AUC-glucose) and insulin (AUC-insulin) concentration following an oral glucose tolerance test were measured, together with daily plasma cortisol (8 a.m., 3 p.m. and 12 a.m.; AUC-cortisol) and 8 a.m. cortisol after 1 mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test (DST).

Results: IGT was present in 27% of patients who were older and had higher BMI, plasma triglycerides and uric acid, AUC-cortisol and DST-cortisol, and lower HDL-cholesterol. Frequency of IGT increased progressively across tertiles of DST-cortisol, together with levels of glycated hemoglobin, fasting insulin and C-peptide, HOMA-index, AUC-glucose, and AUC-insulin. AUC-cortisol and DST-cortisol were directly correlated with insulin, C-peptide, HOMA-index, AUC-glucose, and AUC-insulin. Multivariate regression analysis showed that DST-cortisol was directly and independently correlated with HOMA index, AUC-glucose, and AUC-insulin. In a logistic regression model, both AUC-cortisol and DST-cortisol independently predicted IGT.

Conclusion: Daily cortisol and cortisol response to DST are independent determinants of IGT and insulin resistance in nondiabetic patients with hypertension, suggesting that even subtle differences in regulation of cortisol secretion might increase the risk of these patients to develop diabetes.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • C-Peptide
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Glucose Intolerance* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Hypertension*
  • Insulin
  • Insulin Resistance*


  • Hydrocortisone
  • Blood Glucose
  • C-Peptide
  • Insulin