In this section
Adrenal (ah-dree-nal) hormones are chemicals made by the adrenal gland, to do certain jobs including control of blood pressure and sugar levels, blood volume and the amount of salt in the bloodstream. During times of physical stress, the adrenal gland releases the hormones adrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone.
An adrenal crisis can happen during times of physical stress, when the body cannot make enough of these adrenal hormones. Low levels of adrenal hormones can cause symptoms including weakness, fatigue and nausea. If not treated, an adrenal crisis can be life threatening. However, many adrenal crises can be prevented.
Children who have congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), hypopituitarism or are on long-term steroid medicine are at increased risk of having an adrenal crisis.
Physical stresses that may cause an adrenal crisis in susceptible children include:
If your child is experiencing an adrenal crisis, they may:
If your child is known to be at risk of adrenal crisis, and they show signs and symptoms of an adrenal crisis, take them to your local emergency department. Children at risk of adrenal crisis should have an emergency management plan.
If you are ever worried or unsure about your child's health, see a doctor.
Adrenal crisis can often be prevented by early treatment when physical stresses occur. If your child has CAH, hypopituitarism or is on long-term steroid medicine, then you need to watch out for the following common illnesses that may lead to an adrenal crisis.
If your child has one or two vomits:
If your child vomits again or becomes sleepy or drowsy:
Hydrocortisone is given to your child before and after the operation.
Make sure you tell medical staff caring for your child if your child has CAH, hypopituitarism or is on long-term steroid medicine.
Discuss the information above with your child's endocrinologist and make sure that you understand it well.
Is adrenal crisis linked to adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a controversial term because it is not a recognised medical condition. Many people with general tiredness are told they may have 'adrenal fatigue' but there is usually a more rational explanation.
If you or your child is experiencing lethargy, discuss this with your doctor.
Should my child wear medical alert jewellery?
Yes. Any child with a life-threatening disease that requires emergency management should wear a medical alert bracelet. An emergency management plan should also be put into place and provided to all caregivers and teachers.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Endocrinology department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed August 2018.
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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.