People who are diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency should be taking the lowest possible dose of hydrocortisone (HC) possible. Fact. What is the lowest possible dose? It all depends upon your physiology, your diagnosed and undiagnosed comorbid conditions and the amounts of other hormones you are on.
How does your doctor determine how much HC you should be on? Pathetically enough, he basically pulls a number out of his ass with no regard for your quality of life or clinical symptoms. He likes to err on the side of a lower dose and very poor quality of life. The generally recommended guidelines in medical literature are about 15-25 mg of HC per day without any regard to activity level, binding globulins, other hormones you are taking that affect cortisol metabolism or the other diseases you have.
I know of very, very few people who can function well on 15 mg of hydrocortisone a day. I know of only a few. Some have decent quality of life. Some do not but prefer to suffer from all of the symptoms of under replacment: bronzing, nausea, vomiting, low bp, fatigue, hypoglycemia. In addition, cortisol is needed for bone growth. Not enough cortisol INCREASES your risk of osteoporosis so if you think you're doing yourself favors by suffering through the symptoms of under replacement to make your doctor happy, you are actually a martyr and a little suicidal.
The average replacement dose is about 20 mg of HC per day. The recommendation is based on nearly nothing. There is no monitor for cortisol that's widely available to the public. There are no guidelines for cortisol numbers based on the dose, patient's metabolism, comorbid conditions and time of the last dose. The 20 mg of HC number was collected in a hospital setting on people who sat around all day getting blood drawn. When's the last time you sat around all day, chatting, reading magazines and waiting to have blood drawn? Most of us don't have that sedate or stress free of a life and need more cortisol to mow the lawn, take care of kids, work full time, fight with our spouses and exercise.
If you find that you need more than 20 mg of HC per day to function well, don't let your doctor tell you you will be over replaced with cortisol if you take more. Some of us have active lifestyles, stressful lifestyles and/or thyroid (GH too) replaced at too high of a dose for someone who only has a fixed amount of cortisol in her system. Know the symptoms of over replacement. Tell your doctor what they are and which ones you don't have from deviating from his recommendations.
It is far more dangerous for you to be under replaced than properly replaced. You are unable to store glycogen in your liver if you do not have enough hydrocortisone. If you do not have glycogen stored in your liver, you will more easily become hypoglycemic. Hypoglycemia is when you don't have much sugar in your blood. The sugar in your blood feeds your brain and muscles. You can die from severe hypoglycemia.
If your doctor is only prescribing the bare minimum of hydrocortisone, how do you keep a small stash in your wallet, gym bag, desk or purse? What do you do if you vomit and need to triple your HC dose? How do you increase your HC for exercise? Heaven forbid you get a fever and need to double or triple for days in a row? If you're willing to share your strategies on this, I'd love to hear them.