Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis suppression - The value of salivary cortisol and cortisone in assessing hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal recovery. Academic Article uri icon


  • The 0.25 mg short synacthen test is used to assess recovery from hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal suppression due to chronic glucocorticoid administration. We assessed the potential role of salivary cortisol and cortisone in predicting hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function using the short synacthen test as the gold standard test.Between 09:00 and 10:30, salivary and blood samples were collected just prior to a short synacthen test to assess hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis recovery in patients previously treated with oral glucocorticoids. The cut-off for a normal short synacthen test was a 30-min cortisol ≥450 nmol/L.Fifty-six short synacthen tests were performed on 47 patients. Of these, 15 were normal. The area under receiver operating characteristic curves for serum cortisol, salivary cortisone and salivary cortisol were 0.772, 0.785 and 0.770, respectively. From the receiver operating characteristic analysis, the cut-offs for baseline serum cortisol (≥365 nmol/L) and salivary cortisone (≥37.2 nmol) predicted hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis recovery with 100% specificity in 26.7% of pass short synacthen tests, whereas salivary cortisol predicted none. Baseline serum cortisol (≤170 nmol/L), salivary cortisone (≤9.42 nmol/L) and salivary cortisol (≤1.92 nmol/L) predicted hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal suppression with 100% sensitivity in 58.5%, 53.7% and 51.2% of failed short synacthen tests, respectively. Using these cut-offs, baseline serum cortisol, salivary cortisone and salivary cortisol could reduce the need for short synacthen tests by 50%, 46% and 37%, respectively.Although marginally inferior to early morning serum cortisol, early morning salivary cortisone may be used as a first-line test for assessing hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function. We plan to incorporate salivary cortisone into a home-based patient pathway to identify patients with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal recovery, continuing hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal suppression and those who require a short synacthen test.

publication date

  • December 2020