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Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2013 Apr;57(4):452-60. doi: 10.1111/aas.12014. Epub 2012 Nov 21.

Cortisol levels are influenced by sedation in the acute phase after subarachnoid haemorrhage.

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  • 1Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine, Institute of Surgical and Perioperative Sciences, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.



Subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) is a life-threatening condition that may be aggravated by acute pituitary damage and cortisol insufficiency. Robust diagnostic criteria for critical illness-related corticosteroid insufficiency (CIRCI) are lacking. The aim of this study was to assess the frequency of CIRCI in the acute phase (0-240 h) after SAH and to evaluate associations between cortisol levels and clinical parameters (sedation, circulatory failure, gender, age, severity of disease, treatment). CIRCI was defined as a single morning serum cortisol (mSC) < 200 nmol/L. The lower limit for calculated free cortisol (cFC) was set at < 22 nmol/L, and for saliva cortisol at < 7.7 nmol/L.


Fifty patients were included. Serum/saliva cortisol and corticosteroid-binding globulin were obtained every second morning. A logistic regression model was used for multivariate analysis comparing cortisol levels with clinical parameters.


Of the patients, 21/50 (42%) had an mSC < 200 nmol/L and 30/50 (60%) had a cFC < 22 nmol/L. In patients with continuous intravenous sedation, the odds ratio for a mSC to be < 200 nmol/L was 18 times higher (95% confidence interval 4.2-85.0, P < 0.001), and the odds ratio for a cFC to be < 22 nmol/L was 2.4 times higher (95% confidence interval 1.2-4.7, P < 0.05) compared with patients with no continuous intravenous sedation.


Continuous intravenous sedation was significantly associated with cortisol values under defined limits (mSC < 200, cFC < 22 nmol/L). The possibility that sedating drugs per se may influence cortisol levels should be taken into consideration before CIRCI is diagnosed.

© 2012 The Acta Anaesthesiologica Scandinavica Foundation.

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