Cortisol Levels: Check prior to SDS in Septic Shock?

Your patient is in septic shock. They’ve gotten the correct source control, antibiotics, fluids, vasopressors. They remain hypotensive. Getting worse, actually. Could they have relative adrenal insufficiency or one of these fancy-termed conditions such as “critical illness-related corticosteroid insufficiency” (CIRCI)? Some clinicians insist on checking cortisol levels in patients who are in septic shock. 

Should you check a cortisol level to find out or just start stress dose steroid in septic shock patients?

In my practice, I do not check cortisol levels. No need to stick the patient for more blood. No need to waste any additional money for lab tests. No need to delay care in waiting for a lab result. Once the norepinephrine dose starts creeping up, I order stress dose steroids (as well as vitamin c and thiamine at the time of this writing). This is all my medical opinion and not advice, in case you didn’t know.

The most recent trials on stress dose steroids do not check cortisol levels, so why should you? I tried to dig deeper into this point as I cannot get others to stop checking random cortisol levels on their critically ill patients. But why? There’s no diagnostic consensus about the appropriate cortisol level for patients in septic shock. In addition to that, there’s data that states that “both cortisol and synthetic ACTH challenge assays are unreliable in critically ill patients”. So then why do we keep doing it?

Is there something out there that I don’t know and you all can provide me with insight on? I’m looking for help on this. To learn more about sepsis and septic shock CLICK HERE.

A hat tip to the author. 

Reddy, Pramod. Diagnosis and Management of Adrenal Insufficiency in Hospitalized Patients. American Journal of Therapeutics, 2019. E-pub ahead of print.


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