To study adrenal crisis (AC) in patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to classical 21-hydroxylase deficiency (21-OHD). AC was defined as an acute state of health impairment requiring i.v. glucocorticoid administration and hospital admission.
Design and methods
In a cross-sectional study with detailed retrospective assessment, AC was studied following two approaches: i) questionnaire based: 122 adult 21-OHD patients (50 men, 72 women, median age 35 years, range 18–69 years) completed a disease-specific questionnaire; and ii) patient chart based: charts of 67 21-OHD patients (32 males, 35 females, median age 31 years, range 20–66 years) were analyzed from diagnosis to last follow-up with regard to frequency and causes of AC since diagnosis.
Evaluation of questionnaires revealed 257 ACs in 4456 patient years (py; frequency 5.8 crises/100 py), while patient charts documented 106 ACs in 2181 py (4.9 crises/100 py). The chart-based evaluation showed that gastrointestinal infections (29%) and salt-wasting crisis (18%) were the main causes of AC. In 14%, the cause remained uncertain. There was no difference in the overall frequency of AC in males and females. AC mostly occurred during childhood, with more than 70% of AC in the first 10 years of life and one-third of AC in the first year of life. Still, 20% of cases of AC were observed in adults (>18 years).
Our data demonstrate a significant risk of AC in patients with 21-OHD over lifetime. Specific age-adapted and repeated crisis prevention training may help to reduce morbidity due to AC in 21-OHD.