Management and medical therapy of mild hypercortisolism

Vittoria Favero, Arianna Cremaschi, Alberto Falchetti, Agostino Gaudio, Luigi Gennari, Alfredo Scillitani, Fabio Vescini, Valentina Morelli, Carmen Aresta, Iacopo Chiodini

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Mild hypercortisolism (mHC) is defined as an excessive cortisol secretion, without the classical manifestations of clinically overt Cushing’s syndrome. This condition increases the risk of bone fragility, neuropsychological alterations, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular events and mortality. At variance with Cushing’s syndrome, mHC is not rare, with it estimated to be present in up to 2% of individuals older than 60 years, with higher prevalence (up to 10%) in individuals with uncontrolled hypertension and/or diabetes or with unexplainable bone fragility. Measuring cortisol after a 1 mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test is the first-line test for searching for mHC, and the degree of cortisol suppression is associated with the presence of cortisol-related consequences and mortality. Among the additional tests used for diagnosing mHC in doubtful cases, the basal morning plasma adrenocorticotroph hormone, 24-h urinary free cortisol and/or late-night salivary cortisol could be measured, particularly in patients with possible cortisol-related complications, such as hypertension and diabetes. Surgery is considered as a possible therapeutic option in patients with munilateral adrenal incidentalomas and mHC since it improves diabetes and hypertension and reduces the fracture risk. In patients with mHC and bilateral adrenal adenomas, in whom surgery would lead to persistent hypocortisolism, and in patients refusing surgery or in whom surgery is not feasible, medical therapy is needed. Currently, promising though scarce data have been provided on the possible use of pituitary-directed agents, such as the multi-ligand somatostatin analog pasireotide or the dopamine agonist cabergoline for the—nowadays—rare patients with pituitary mHC. In the more frequently adrenal mHC, encouraging data are available for metyrapone, a steroidogenesis inhibitor acting mainly against the adrenal 11-βhydroxylase, while data on osilodrostat and levoketoconazole, other new steroidogenesis inhibitors, are still needed in patients with mHC. Finally, on the basis of promising data with mifepristone, a non-selective glucocorticoid receptor antagonist, in patients with mild cortisol hypersecretion, a randomized placebo-controlled study is ongoing for assessing the efficacy and safety of relacorilant, a selective glucocorticoid receptor antagonist, for patients with mild adrenal hypercortisolism and diabetes mellitus/impaired glucose tolerance and/or uncontrolled systolic hypertension.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11521
JournalInternational Journal of Molecular Sciences
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2021


  • 11 betahydroxysteroid dehydrogenase
  • Adrenal steroidogenesis
  • Dopamine
  • Glucocorticoid receptor
  • Hypercortisolism
  • Somatostatin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Catalysis
  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


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