Adrenal crisis, the most feared complication of adrenal insufficiency, is a potentially life-threatening state of acute glucocorticoid deficiency. After successful surgery for Cushing’s syndrome, many patients develop (transient) adrenal insufficiency. The incidence of adrenal crisis in patients treated for hypercortisolism is unknown.
Cohort study included consecutive patients with Cushing’s syndrome with adrenal insufficiency after surgery from Leiden and Berlin from 2000 to 2015. We summarized the incidence of adrenal crisis, compared patients with and without adrenal crisis regarding potential risk factors for its occurrence and assessed the effect of better education in time on incidence of adrenal crisis.
We included 106 patients, of whom 19 patients had a total of 41 adrenal crises. There were 9.0 crises per 100 patient-years at risk (95% confidence interval (CI): 6.7–12.0). All crises occurred while on hydrocortisone replacement. The risk ratio for a recurrent crisis was 2.3 (95% CI: 1.2–4.6). No clear change in incidence of adrenal crisis due to better education in time was observed. There was no difference in recurrence rate between patients with, and without any crisis, but patients with adrenal crisis had more often pituitary deficiencies.
The incidence of adrenal crises after treatment for Cushing’s syndrome is substantial, and patients who suffered from an adrenal crisis have higher risk for recurrent crisis. Adrenal crisis tends to present early after remission of Cushing’s syndrome, which is probably the period of severest HPA axis suppression, despite in general higher hydrocortisone replacement doses for withdrawal complaints in this period. Additional pituitary hormone deficiencies may be a risk marker for increased risk of adrenal crisis. However, further risk factor analysis is needed to identify risks for a first crisis. Effective education methods to prevent adrenal crises should be identified and implemented, including stress instructions by trained nursing staff before hospital discharge.