Written by Paul Margulies, M.D, F.A.C.E., F.A.C.P. Medical Director, NADF.
Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, New York University Medical School.
Q&A from March, 2016
Question: I’m 65 and an Addisonian. I recall reading that senior’s with Addison’s shouldn’t get the senior citizen flu-shot, and should instead just get the regular kind. Is that true?
Answer: Frankly, either one is fine. Whoever has a shot to give you; take it if you haven’t for flu season.
Question: I have a kidney stone, my first one ever, and the stone has not passed yet. They want to talk about procedures to remove the stone. I would like to know if I need to be on cortisol during any type of kidney stone procedure. I have secondary Addison’s.
Answer: Yes, steroid coverage is needed for any surgical procedure. The urologist will be familiar with this. A dose of 50 to 100 mg of hydrocortisone at the time of anesthesia and follow up doses depending on whether there is much post-op pain should be given.
Question: What is the protocol for taking a chemical cardiac stress test? Is it safe to do?
Answer: Despite the term stress test, these tests do not cause significant enough stress to warrant any additional glucocorticoid coverage for people with adrenal insufficiency. Whether it is a chemical stress test or a treadmill test, it is physiologically like taking a very brisk walk or jog for several minutes.
Question: I had a left adrenalectomy secondary to a pheochromocytoma which was 5 cm at time of removal. Since that time I have had a weight gain of almost 60 pounds despite my attempts to eat healthy and maintain a healthy lifestyle, nothing seems to help. I saw an article recently […] and was wondering if there might be a metabolic issue that is creating some of the weight gain?
Answer: One basic issue is that the pheochromocytoma caused a degree of hypermetabolism that has now disappeared. The excess production of epinephrine increased caloric utilization in a pathologic way, and you are now back to a “normal” metabolism that seems relatively slow. Unfortunately, you must adapt to the new normal, and diet and exercise to bring the weight down. Eventually, you should be able to reach a new stability.
Q&A from June, 2016
Question: I was on corticosteroids (6 mg Entocort) to treat Crohn’s disease. The course was supposed to be three months, but I found it impossible to taper off at that time. I was diagnosed with a secondary adrenal insufficiency after 15 months on steroids. It took two years to taper off steroids in total; eight months of dedicated effort to get off of them! It sucked. My cortisol is back to normal (19 at last measure, up from 6 or 7 at the lowest), and stimulates up to 31. I’ve been off steroids now for seven months. About how long is the feeling like crap supposed to last?
Answer: With the apparent restoration of good adrenal function, there may still be some residual sense of mild adrenal insufficiency symptoms, such as fatigue and low appetite that may remain for a few more months. Keep in mind, however, that symptoms may also be due to the underlying Crohn’s disease, as well as other medical issues. Discuss all this with your doctor, and make sure nothing else is going on.
Question: Is it possible for high cortisol levels to exacerbate yeast infections?
Answer: Yes, high levels of cortisol or steroid therapy can exacerbate Candida and other fungal infections. It can be a significant complication of Cushing’s syndrome. This is due to the suppression of the immune system from high levels of glucocorticoids. It does not happen with normal replacement doses used for Addison’s disease.
Question: I have been working for the USPS for 12 years but all indoors. I recently made the switch to letter carrier and was wondering if you know of any research or any information about heat, the sun and so on. I live in New Mexico and summers are always in the high 90’s and I just want to better prepare myself for summer if I can. I have tried looking on line but only found anecdotal and hearsay into about Addison’s and the sun. So I would like to find more clinical info. Any help would be grateful!
Answer: The recommendations really apply to anyone exposed to the heat. Wear a hat, wear loose clothing, and stay well hydrated. Assuming secondary adrenal insufficiency rather that primary, dehydration is less of a threat. Although salt loss is less of an issue for people with secondary adrenal insufficiency, I would add salty foods or snacks if lightheadedness or dizziness is a common occurrence. Extra glucocorticoid doses are needed only if severe stress symptoms occur, including nausea, cramping and profound fatigue.
Question: I have been researching this medical condition as my 15 year old niece was diagnosed with it a year ago. The tumors found on her adrenal glands were found to be benign and were never removed. All of the research I have obtain indicates when tumors are found whether or not they are benign they are removed immediately. Is this correct? Also in this case where the tumors were found to be benign would this mean that this is NOT considered to be a rare form of cancer?
Answer: If the diagnosis of pheochromocytoma is confirmed, the tumors should be removed because of the risk of severe episodes of high blood pressure. Most pheos are benign. If pheos are found in both adrenals, especially in a young person, there is a high probability that this is a genetic disorder. The endocrinologist should do genetic testing for familial pheochromocytoma and MEN 2.
Q&A from September, 2016
Question: Do you have any guidance for the use of melatonin, as an Addison’s disease patient?
Answer: Melatonin is safe in Addison’s disease. Not everyone responds, and it usually takes 2 or 3 days for it to work, but I recommend it as a safe sleeping aid.
Question: Can adrenal insufficient people take NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)?
Answer: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are safe for people with adrenal insufficiency. They should observe the usual cautions that any person should follow: avoid them if you have significant kidney disease or hypertension, significant acid-peptic symptoms or disease, and understand that they will negate any benefit from low dose aspirin on heart disease prevention. Always try to take them for a limited time.
Question: What is your medication guidance regarding wisdom teeth extractions for AI patients?
Answer: Steroid coverage for wisdom teeth extraction depends on the type of anesthesia being used and the expected degree of post-op pain. If general anesthesia is needed, I would suggest IV hydrocortisone 50 mg to be given at the time of anesthesia. If local anesthesia is used, oral hydrocortisone 20 mg before the procedure should be sufficient. Post-op, extra oral hydrocortisone of 10 to 20 mg can be added a few hours later, depending on the severity of pain.
Question: Hi, can someone please help me locate the truth about whether a 24 hour urine catch test for cortisol is valid? My endo is trying to prove that I’m on too much HC, and insurance isn’t letting me switch right now.
Answer: Generally, I don’t think measuring urine cortisol is very useful in the management of adrenal insufficiency. However, if there is a particular discrepancy between the dosage and the clinical effect, an elevated 24 hour urine free cortisol would clarify whether the dose is getting into the blood stream appropriately.