[The necessity for perioperative cortisol substitution. Spontaneous and stimulated ACTH and cortisol secretion during unilateral adrenalectomy for renal cell carcinoma]

Anaesthesist. 1997 Apr;46(4):303-8. doi: 10.1007/s001010050405.
[Article in German]


Impaired adrenal function during perioperative stress carries the risk of acute cortisol (Cs) deficiency (Addisonian crisis), which may be critical without Cs supplementation. Thus, with evidence of dysfunction of the adrenal glands perioperative substitution is indicated. However, it is unclear whether unilateral adrenalectomy may attenuate the adrenocorticoid response. Glucocorticosteroids are potent agents with several well-known side effects. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate if routine Cs supplementation is justified and necessary in patients undergoing adrenalectomy during nephrectomy for renal-cell cancer.

Methods: Ten consecutive patients with renal-cell cancer (5 male, 5 female; age 58 +/- 10 years; ASA class I-II) who underwent adrenalectomy with radical nephrectomy were included in this study. None of them had received steroids for at least 5 years prior to the current surgery. Anaesthesia was induced with propofol, fentanyl, and vecuronium and maintained with isoflurane (PetIso: 0.8 +/- 0.3 vol.%) in nitrous oxide (66%) and oxygen. The patients did not receive any Cs treatment perioperatively. Monitoring included heart rate (beats/min), mean arterial pressure (mm Hg), central venous pressure (mm Hg), O2 saturation (%), and body temperature (degrees C, rectal). Plasma analyses included Cs (Cs radioimmunoassay IBL; normal 120-250 ng/ml), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) (ACTH-II IRMA; normal (10-50 pg/ml), glucose, and electrolytes determined as follows: preoperatively (8 a.m.); 1-6 h (60-min intervals) after surgery; pre-corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) (Corticobiss: 2 micrograms/kg i.v.) administration (1st postop. day at 8 a.m. and after 30, 60, 90, and 120 min. The study was completed with plasma analyses on postoperative days 2 and 3 (8 a.m.).

Results: None of the patients showed any clinical signs of plasma parameter of adrenal insufficiency due to the unilateral adrenalectomy. Serum levels (median: 25%/75% percentiles) of Cs (maximum [max.]:253 [217/288] ng/ml) and ACTH (max.:347 ([68/405] pg/ml) were elevated above the normal range postoperatively). After intravenous stimulation with CRH (1st postoperative day), Cs (max.:273 [248/310] ng/ml) and ACTH (max.: 107 ([75/275] pg/ml) were also increased above normal. During postoperative days 2 and 3 (8 a.m.) Cs and ACTH remained in the high-normal range.

Conclusions: Data from this study indicate that unilateral adrenalectomy was associated with adequate spontaneous Cs secretion by the remaining adrenal gland. Moreover, stimulation with CRH demonstrated adequate reactivity of the pituitary-adrenal axis. None of the patients showed any signs of Cs deficiency by clinical or serum parameters. Therefore, we do not recommend routine Cs supplementation in patients undergoing adrenalectomy during tumor nephrectomy, nevertheless, Cs supplementation remains necessary for patients with primary hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal dysfunction (Addison's disease) or hyperfunction (Cushing's disease).

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • English Abstract

MeSH terms

  • Adrenalectomy*
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / blood*
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / surgery*
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Hydrocortisone / therapeutic use*
  • Intraoperative Period
  • Kidney Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nephrectomy


  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone