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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 May;96(5):1223-36. doi: 10.1210/jc.2010-2722. Epub 2011 Mar 2.

Clinical review: Diagnosis and treatment of subclinical hypercortisolism.

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Department of Medical Sciences, University of Milan, Endocrinology and Diabetology Unit, Fondazione Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Istituto di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico, Pad. Granelli, Via F. Sforza 35, 20122 Milan, Italy.



Subclinical hypercortisolism (SH) is a condition of biochemical cortisol excess without the classical signs or symptoms of overt hypercortisolism. It is thought to be present in the 5-30% of patients with incidentally discovered adrenal mass (adrenal incidentalomas), which in turn are found in 4-7% of the adult population. Therefore, SH has been suggested to be present in 0.2-2.0% of the adult population. Some studies suggested that this condition is present in 1-10% of patients with diabetes or established osteoporosis. The present manuscript reviews the literature on diagnostic procedures and the metabolic effect of the recovery from SH.


A PubMed search was used to identify the available studies. The most relevant studies from 1992 to November 2010 have been included in the review.


The available data suggest that SH may be associated with chronic complications, such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, overweight/obesity, and osteoporosis. The available intervention studies suggest that the recovery from SH may lead to the improvement of hypertension and diabetes mellitus. A retrospective study suggests that this beneficial effect could be predicted before surgery.


SH is suggested to be associated with some chronic complications of overt cortisol excess. Recovery from this condition seems to improve these complications. However, a large, prospective, randomized study is needed to confirm this hypothesis and to establish the best diagnostic approach to identify patients with adrenal incidentalomas who can benefit from surgery.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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