How to test for abnormal adrenal gland function

Written by sarah leslie gagan
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The two adrenal glands in the human body are located above the kidneys, and are responsible for producing essential hormones that the body requires to function properly. This includes the hormone cortisol, which is vital in the body's response to stress and physical activity. The adrenal glands can function abnormally, and produce too little, or too much hormone, leading to serious medical complications. Your physician can use a variety of different tests to determine abnormal adrenal gland function.

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    Medical Tests for Abnormal Adrenal Gland Function

  1. 1

    Take the 24-hour adrenal hormone saliva test. It is the most common medical test for adrenal function. Saliva samples are taken at four specific times in a 24 hour period, and each specimen is placed into a separate container. Levels are then measured at the four specimen collection times. Because cortisol and other adrenal hormone levels fluctuate throughout the day, this non-invasive test will give your physician an overall portrait of your adrenal function.

  2. 2

    Request that your physician order a 24-hour blood serum cortisol test. Blood samples are taken at four specific times during a 24 hour period, and evaluated for cortisol and other adrenal hormone levels. This test can be invasive and often inconvenient, but equally as accurate as the saliva test.

  3. 3

    Perform a 24-hour cumulative urine test to assess adrenal gland function. All urine produced within a designated 24 hour period is collected and tested for a total amount of cortisol and adrenal hormones produced. The results of this test are useful, but will not measure adrenal output at any specific time as with the saliva and blood serum testing.

  4. 4

    Test your adrenal gland function by performing an adrenocorticotropic, or ACTH, stimulation test. This evaluates the ability of the adrenal gland to respond and produce cortisol when prompted. A blood sample is drawn to measure cortisol level. Then you are given an intramuscular injection of an adrenal gland stimulator called ACTH. Blood samples are drawn 30 minutes and 60 minutes after injection to measure the response of the adrenal gland. Insufficient output of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands after ACTH injection indicates Addison's Disease, also known as adrenal insufficiency.

  5. 5

    Obtain a physician's order for a Dexamethasone Suppression Test, which is used to test the adrenal glands for over productivity, also known as Cushing's disease. An oral dose of the medication Dexamethasone is given every six hours for two days. Blood samples are drawn at 24 and 48 hours to measure cortisol levels in blood. Two 24-hour cumulative urine samples also are collected during the two-day process to test cortisol and other hormone levels.

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