Blog changes

Thanks to everyone who followed Training Because I Can! over the last nine years. This blog started with Addison's Disease, hypothyroidism and a crazy idea of doing an Ironman distance triathlon. My life has changed and so has this blog. I am using this blog strictly for Addison's Support topics from here on out. I hope to continue providing people with hints for living life well with adrenal insufficiency.

Friday, July 24, 2015

How do people with adrenal insufficiency determine if we are on enough or too much hydrocortisone?

One of the comments to my last post, Rant: The prescribing and adherence to low doses of cortisol asked the question "How do people with adrenal insufficiency determine if we are on enough or too much hydrocortisone?"  You would think that there was a cut and dry answer to this question.  There is no blood test for cortisol. There are no accepted guidelines to determine the correct amount of cortisol in the blood taking into account the many factors that can affect cortisol assimilation into the blood:

  • Circadian rhythm of cortisol (at what time should what serum cortisol number be achieved?)
  • At what time would this number be achieved depending upon a person's individual metabolism of the cortisol?
  • Does gender matter for cortisol?  Place in the woman's cycle?  Post menopausal?
    • HRT or estrogen replacement has effects on cortisol binding proteins
  • How do the comorbid conditions affect a person's need for a higher or lower cortisol number?
  • Does a person's digestive issue affect the amount of cortisol needed to attain a specific amount of cortisol in the blood? 
There are many more factors to consider.  The factors are technical.  What it comes down to is, what is a realistic way to determine if we are taking enough cortisol?  Yes, symptoms or lack of determine the "right" amount of hydrocortisone replacement.

Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency and under replacement of hydrocortisone:

  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Low blood pressure/orthostatic hypotension
  • Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • Poor immunity, particularly with lung involvement
  • Low blood sugar
  • Fatigue
  • Depression or crying at Hallmark commercials
  • Serum indications 
    • Elevated serum calcium
    • Low sodium/high potassium
    • Low lymphocytes
    • High esinophils
    • Low WBC
    • High hematocrit
If you are not taking enough hydrocortisone, you will suffer from a few of the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency (see the list above).  You do not have to have each and every one of the symptoms to say, "Hmmmmm, I might not be on enough cortsiol!"  We all have different comorbid conditions and different physiologies that cause us to have different symptoms from one another.  I have only included the serum indicators for those of you who can't believe your symptoms.  Maybe you need to have someone else tell you (like a lab) that what you are feeling is valid.  The "serum indications" list is for you.

What can you do now that you've determined that you might not be on enough HC?

  • Get your doctor's permission to make changes to your dosing strategy
    • discuss timing
    • discuss dosing
    • discuss your symptoms
    • discuss what constitutes a successful/failure of a trial
    • discuss length of trial
  • Get a journal where you record
    • symptoms
    • sleep
    • medications, doses and times
  • Set up a dosing schedule, see this rant for tips  Really, how hard is it? (An Addison's rant)

    • Keep in mind you can only metabolize a certain amount of cortisol from hydrocortisone at one time.  5 mg and 10 mg doses are the most readily assimilated. 
    • 2/3 of your dose should be before noon
    • You will probably need to take your HC more often than you are now.  Separate doses by 2 or 3 hours
  • Take your HC consistently
  • Don't cut your trial short based on a one-off reaction.  Remember this quote, "

    “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action"― Ian Fleming


The nice thing about hydrocortisone is that it's short acting.  Dosing is reversible.  If you decide to change your dose of HC (WITH YOUR DOCTOR'S PERMISSION) and it seems like too much, you can take less later in the day and the next day.  You don't have to stick with a dose that doesn't work for you.  Easy!

Symptoms of over replacement of hydrocortisone:

  • Immediate
    • Feeling jittery
    • Anxiety
    • Overstimulated
    • Easily angered/frustrated
  • Long term
    • Weight gain that's inappropriate to food intake/exercise
    • Purple striae
    • Insomnia
    • High blood sugar
    • Moon face/buffalo hump

Symptoms of correct replacement of hydrocortisone:

  • Fatigue that's appropriate to your activity level
  • Sleeping well
  • Appropriate digestion with regard to your other diseases
  • Consistently good blood sugar
  • Consistently good blood pressure
  • Good mood
  • Good immunity
  • When I'm feeling really well, I think, "Are these meds actually doing anything?  Are they placebos?"  For me, this is a sign that my meds are balanced well!!!

Other posts that might be helpful.




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