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Neurocrit Care. 2008;8(1):53-6.

Relative adrenal insufficiency in patients with acute spinal cord injury.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina Hospitals, 101 Manning Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, USA.



Relative adrenal insufficiency has been shown to occur in the settings of critical illness and septic shock, impairing the body's ability to respond to stress. Studies have demonstrated that the treatment of adrenal insufficiency (AI) results in shock reversal, hemodynamic stability, and a subsequent decrease in mortality. Endocrine changes and AI have been reported in patients with spinal cord injuries during their extended courses of rehabilitation.


We describe two cases of patients with cervical spine injuries who presented with acute adrenal insufficiency following their injuries. With the addition of low-dose corticosteroids, each patient had symptom resolution and demonstrated clinical improvement.


Patients with spinal cord injuries are at risk for AI, both in the acute and chronic settings following injury prompting the need for an increased awareness of this condition. Although variability exists in the exact criteria for the diagnosis of AI, the combination of clinical symptoms, depressed serum cortisol concentrations, and responsiveness to exogenous steroid therapy should all contribute to the diagnosis of this condition.

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