Health Library
Adrenal Insufficiency

What is Adrenal Insufficiency?

Adrenal insufficiency is a condition in which the adrenal glands (located on top of each kidney) are not able to make the right amount of important hormones.

A diagram showing the adrenal gland.

These hormones include cortisol (kawr-tuh-sawl) and aldosterone (al-dos-tuh-rohn). They help keep blood pressure and blood sugar normal, as well as maintain salt and water balance. These hormones are important when the body needs to fight an infection or recover from surgery, a broken bone, or other illness.

Adrenal insufficiency can be life threatening if not treated properly.

Cause of Adrenal Insufficiency

Adrenal insufficiency can occur:

  • When the adrenal glands are not working right due to a problem with the glands
  • When the adrenal glands are not getting the right signal to make enough hormones
  • As a result of long-term steroid use


Symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Fast heart beat or fast breathing
  • Weakness, dizziness, paleness
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth, thirst, decrease in urine (signs of dehydration)


If the adrenal glands do not make enough cortisol on their own, medication must be taken (hydrocortisone or prednisone).

Children may need extra doses of steroid if they become sick. Parents will need instructions on when to give extra doses of medicine and how to give an injection in the muscle.

This video shows how to give a hydrocortisone injection.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your endocrinology provider if your child is ill and needs extra doses of steroid medicine.

Last Updated 02/2023

Reviewed By Michelle Lawrence, RNIV and Lori Casnellie, RNIII

Who Treats This

Who treats this?

Endocrinology specialists at Cincinnati Children's are among the nation’s best at diagnosing and treating endocrine disorders.

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To learn more, schedule an appointment, or refer a patient, contact the Division of Endocrinology. Contact Us