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What Is Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency?

Secondary adrenal insufficiency occurs when the pituitary gland is not able to produce enough ACTH.
An adrenal gland on top of a kidney.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2014
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Secondary adrenal insufficiency is a medical condition that occurs when the pituitary gland is not able to produce enough of the hormone known as adrenocorticotropin hormone, or ACTH. The pituitary gland is a small gland about the size of a pea that is located at the base of the brain and is responsible for producing and secreting many of the hormones used by the body. This condition may be caused by a variety of factors, including certain medications, surgical procedures, or a variety of other medical conditions. Possible symptoms of secondary adrenal insufficiency include dizziness, joint pain, and weight loss. Treatment for secondary adrenal insufficiency typically includes the use of prescription medications, and in some cases intravenous therapy may be needed.

Secondary adrenal insufficiency may have several causes. Traumatic injuries involving the brain may damage the pituitary gland and lead to this problem. Medications may sometimes be the cause, especially among those who have undergone long-term treatment with steroid medications. Surgical procedures involving the brain or pituitary gland may lead to a decrease in hormone levels, often resulting in secondary adrenal insufficiency. Medical conditions such as infections of the blood or HIV may increase the risks of developing secondary adrenal insufficiency.

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Common symptoms of secondary adrenal insufficiency include dizziness, weakness, and pale skin. Digestive disturbances such as nausea, vomiting, or stomach cramps may lead to a loss of appetite and weight loss. Joint pain, shaking, and excessive sweating may also occur in those who have this medical condition. Some patients report a loss of sex drive, and men may suffer from varying degrees of erectile dysfunction. Hair loss and depression may also become problems among those with this type of pituitary disorder.

Steroid medications are often used to treat secondary adrenal insufficiency. Many patients will need to take these medications for the remainder of their lives, and it is vitally important that these steroid medications are taken exactly as prescribed by a physician. Hormone replacement therapy is frequently effective in treating this condition, as it helps to replace the hormones that are no longer being produced naturally. Intravenous therapy is performed by having a small tube temporarily inserted into a vein so that medications can be safely delivered directly into the bloodstream. This method of treatment is typically administered in a hospital setting, although it may be possible in some cases to have it done in a doctor's office.

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