Adrenal insufficiency in the critically ill neonate and child

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Purpose of review

Adrenal insufficiency, common in critically ill patients of all ages, has recently gained prominence as a significant pathologic entity in pediatrics. This review describes the current diagnostic approach to detecting adrenal insufficiency and the clinical consequences in critically ill children and infants. It also discusses the current therapeutic approach to adrenal insufficiency in critically ill patients.

Recent findings

Relative adrenal insufficiency and its clinical implications have recently come into focus with observational studies demonstrating a high prevalence in pediatric septic shock patients and a significant associated morbidity. Neonatal studies have clarified diagnostic testing and defined clinical outcomes associated with adrenal insufficiency in preterm infants. Comparisons of bioavailable and total cortisol levels demonstrate the utility of total cortisol testing in pediatric septic shock patients.


Adrenal insufficiency contributes to morbidity in critically ill neonates and children. Diagnostic testing by adrenocorticotropin stimulation tests should be done in patients unresponsive to standard treatment of shock. Prospective, randomized clinical trials in critically ill neonates and children with adrenal insufficiency are required to determine if these populations will benefit from glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

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