Feeling stressed? You’re not alone — 77% of men say their stress levels increased during the pandemic. In part, stress can be attributed to cortisol, which is widely known as the body’s stress hormone.
Made in the cortex of the adrenal glands, cortisol has a variety of effects on different body functions. Almost all bodily cells have cortisol receptors, so cortisol helps in inflammation reduction, blood pressure regulation, blood sugar control, metabolism management, and more.
The hormone secretion is regulated by the HPA axis, which consists of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. When the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol, it might indicate Addison’s disease or hypopituitarism.
Read on to find out how to detect the symptoms and how to treat low corticosteroid levels.
What Causes Low Corticosteroid Levels
Adrenal insufficiency is a hormonal condition in which the adrenal glands don’t produce enough steroid hormones. The primary hormone affected is cortisol but it can also impact other hormones like aldosterone and androgens.
Primary adrenal insufficiency happens when the immune system attacks healthy adrenal glands by mistake or when fighting certain conditions like cancer, tuberculosis infection, fungal infections, or other endocrine glands disorders.
Secondary adrenal insufficiency is caused by a lack of ACTH or CRH hormones. These hormones are responsible for signaling the pituitary gland to produce cortisol. Taking steroids for an extended period can cause complications in the pituitary gland which, in turn, can disrupt the secretion of these hormones.
Symptoms of Low Corticosteroid Levels
Symptoms of low corticosteroid levels usually develop gradually and can go unnoticed for an extended period. Chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss are the most common symptoms.
However, there are several other signs related to this condition. Some other symptoms include:
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Low blood pressure
- Mood swings
Sometimes symptoms of Addison’s disease might appear suddenly, usually during a stressful event. Typical symptoms might include:
- Severe weakness
- Severe abdominal pain
- Reduced consciousness
You’ll also have high potassium and low sodium levels, and low blood pressure.
You should consult your physician if you experience any of these symptoms. They will let you know if a cortisol level test is needed and go over the next steps. If untreated, low corticosteroid levels can lead to extreme weakness, severe abdominal pain, low blood pressure, kidney failure, and even shock.
Treatment for Low Corticosteroid Levels
Treatment for low corticosteroid levels involves hormone replacement therapy to correct the levels of steroid hormones the body fails to produce. The most common treatment option includes taking oral corticosteroids like prednisone to replace cortisol. Such hormones are given regularly to mimic the average cortisol levels fluctuations.
Additionally, if you have Addison’s disease, the therapy might also involve fludrocortisone acetate to replace aldosterone and keep the body’s potassium and sodium levels in check. If you can’t keep down oral medication, the doctor might recommend injections of corticosteroids.
The therapy is generally determined based on your age and general health, whether the condition is expected to be lifelong, and how sick you are. In addition, if your body is stressed, such as from infection, operation, or minor illness, the doctor might temporarily increase the medication dosage.
Additional Tips for Managing Low Corticosteroid Levels
In addition to conventional therapy, you can do a few things to improve your health. For example, it’s a good idea to carry a medical alert cart and bracelet so that the emergency medical personnel knows what type of care you need. Additionally, you should make sure to keep extra medication handy and carry a glucocorticoid injection kit in case of emergency.
Moreover, experts recommend including plenty of sodium in the diet, especially after heavy exercise, when the weather is hot, or when you experience gastrointestinal upsets. Last but not least, make sure you check up your cortisol levels annually.
Even though early detection of adrenal insufficiency can be difficult, the treatment is usually successful once initiated. Specialists will tailor the treatment to the underlying causes and individuals with low corticosteroid levels can live long and healthy lives with appropriate treatment.
Of course, it goes without saying that, as with any chronic condition, you should also self-manage the disease, meaning taking medications as the doctors have prescribed and collaborating with them to ensure proper treatment.