"Treatment surveillance of chronic glucocorticoid
replacement is mainly based on clinical grounds because
no objective assessment has proven to be reliable for
monitoring replacement quality."
"Thus, in the absence of objective variables to measure
replacement quality, the doctor has to rely primarily on
clinical judgment, taking into account signs and
symptoms potentially suggestive of glucocorticoid overreplacement
or under-replacement (table). Underreplacement
bears the risk of incipient crisis and severe impairment of wellbeing."
Adrenal Insufficiency Arlt and Allilio
"Individual dose adaptation and monitoring of glucocorticoid replacement remains challenging as cortisol production is highly variable during the day and further influenced by many factors that activate stress responses like physical activity, pain, infections, psychological stress, low blood glucose, etc. Recommended daily hydrocortisone doses in primary adrenal insufficiency (PAI) are lower than estimated before ranging between 10 and 20 mg. However, this reflects a mean need during the day and may not cover the need induced by additional stressors. Therefore, patients need to learn how to adapt their dose according to daily needs in a more flexible manner. Furthermore, comedication has to be taken into account...Some authors recommend weight-adjusted hydrocortisone dosing, thrice daily before food, leading to a reduction of intervals with excess cortisol exposure during the day and to reduced interindividual variability of cortisol profiles. This might be helpful when newly starting hydrocortisone replacement. However, other authors showed that there was no correlation of a clinical score assessing quality of replacement therapy with total or body weight-adjusted glucocorticoid dose. This demonstrates that dose finding has to be individually adapted and also requires patient education enabling the patient to correctly and autonomously adapt the hydrocortisone dose. Because of the nonphysiological cortisol profiles achieved by current replacement regimes, to date no reliable laboratory parameter exists for correct assessment of replacement quality. Even the serum cortisol day curves suggested by some authors only give a rough estimate and help to identify largely over- or underreplaced patients but are of limited value in the standard monitoring of glucocorticoid replacement.  Treatment surveillance is mainly guided by clinical judgment assessing daily performance, subjective health status and signs and symptoms of glucocorticoid over-replacement (weight gain, skin alterations) or under-replacement (fatigue, nausea, myalgia and joint stiffness). Fatigue is, however, a common complaint also under apparently optimized standard replacement conditions. Therefore, an increase in hydrocortisone should timely be reevaluated to avoid overdosing."
What is the Best Long-Term Management Strategy f0r Patients With Primary Adrenal Insufficiency?
Quinkler and Hahner
More references for your reading pleasure:
Debono, M., Ross, R.J. & Newell-Price, J. (2009) Inadequacies of glucocorticoid replacement and improvements by physiological circadian therapy. European Journal of Endocrinology, 160, 719– 729.
Mah, P.M., Jenkins, R.C., Rostami-Hodjegan, A. et al. (2004) Weight-related dosing, timing and monitoring hydrocortisone replacement therapy in patients with adrenal insufficiency. ClinicalEndocrinology (Oxford), 61, 367–375
Arlt, W., Rosenthal, C., Hahner, S. et al. (2006) Quality of glucocorticoid replacement in adrenal insufficiency: clinical assessment vs. timed serum cortisol measurements. Clinical Endocrinology(Oxford), 64, 384–389.
Testing ACTH is expensive and a waste of your blood and time once you've been diagnosed*. Study after study concludes, "
*There are exceptions to this statement. If you are secondary, ACTH may need to be tested. If you are Cushing's and have had a BLA. If you are primary and hyperpigmented, you may need your ACTH tested. More than likely, if you're hyperpigmented and primary, you need more HC.
"ACTH cannot be used asa criterion for glucocorticoid dose adjustment, since inprimary adrenal insufficiency it is invariably high beforethe morning dose and rapidly declines with increasingcortisol concentrations after glucocorticoid ingestion.122,124Aiming at morning ACTH values continuously within thenormal range would, therefore, lead to chronic overreplacement.However, in case of reappearance of skinhyperpigmentation in primary adrenal insufficiency,concentrations of plasma ACTH should be measured."
Adrenal Insufficiency Arlt and Allilio
I really have no clue what you can do if your doctor recommends testing cortisol and ACTH except a) refuse b) just don't get the draw c) ask what he's basing his potential conclusions on (yes, easier said than done).
The most important thing you can do is respect yourself. Are you still suffering from symptoms of untreated adrenal insufficiency such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, hyperpigmentation, low blood pressure? Do you suffer from symptoms of Cushing's like weight gain, insomnia, easy to anger, purple striae, easy bruising and thin skin? Let your symptoms guide you and your physician.
Feel like crap and think you're on the "right" dose of HC?
- Are you dosing your HC physiologically?
- Does the amount of florinef you take keep your sodium consistently at 140 at 8 am, fasting after 24 hours on a normal sodium diet (2,300 mg)?
- Is your free T4 1.3 if you're female and 1.4 if you're male? GET YOUR RESULTS. NORMAL is not an acceptable answer here.
- Are you allowed to replace the hormones in which you're deficient like DHEA-S, testosterone, progesterone?
If you feel like crap and the answers to each and every question above is "yes", you need further testing and/or dosing assistance. Get help. If the answer is "no" to even one of these questions, work on each one in order with your physician.
In summary, doctors are wasting our blood, our money and our lives by testing cortisol and HC to determine the proper dosing since there are NO standards upon which to base their opinions EXCEPT clinical grounds!
Let's start a revolution.
Require your doctor to provide you with proof of why he wants to test your cortisol and/or ACTH to determine your hydrocortisone dosing. He might fire you but it might be worth it. You'll find someone who thinks you and your judgement is valuable. Who knows? You might feel better if you were allowed to trust yourself and your symptoms that YOU live with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.