Post-surgical hypocortisolism after removal of an adrenal incidentaloma: Is it predictable by an accurate endocrinological work-up before surgery?

Cristina Eller-Vainicher, Valentina Morelli, Antonio Stefano Salcuni, Massimo Torlontano, Francesca Coletti, Laura Iorio, Antonello Cuttitta, Angelo Ambrosio, Leonardo Vicentini, Vincenzo Carnevale, Paolo Beck-Peccoz, Maura Arosio, Bruno Ambrosi, Alfredo Scillitani, Iacopo Chiodini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Few data are available regarding the need of steroid substitutive therapy after unilateral adrenalectomy for adrenal incidentaloma (AI). It is unknown whether, before surgery, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis secretion parameters can predict post-surgical hypocortisolism. Aim: This study aimed to evaluate whether, in AI patients undergoing unilateral adrenalectomy, post-surgical hypocortisolism could be predicted by the parameters of HPA axis function. Design: Prospective, multicenter. Methods: A total of 60 patients underwent surgical removal of AI (surgical indication: 29 subclinical hypercortisolism (SH); 31 AI dimension). Before surgery, SH was diagnosed in patients presenting at least three criteria out of urinary free cortisol (UFC) levels > 60 μg/24 h, cortisol after 1-mg dexamethasone suppression test (1 mg-DST) > 3.0 μg/dl, ACTH levels <10 pg/ml, midnight serum cortisol (MSC) > 5.4 μg/dl. Two months after surgery, HPA axis function was assessed by low dose ACTH stimulation test or insulin tolerance test when needed: 39 patients were affected (Group B) and 21 were not affected (Group A) with hypocortisolism. The accuracy in predicting hypocortisolism of pre-surgical HPA axis parameters or their combinations was evaluated. Results: The presence of > 2 alterations among 1 mg-DST > 5.0 μg/dl, ACTH <10 pg/ml, elevated UFC and MSC has the highest odds ratio (OR) for predicting post-surgical hypocortisolism (OR 10.45, 95% confidence interval, CI 2.54-42.95, P=0.001). Post-surgical hypocortisolism was predicted with 100% probability by elevated UFC plus MSC levels, but not ruled out even in the presence of the normality of all HPA axis parameters. Conclusion: Post-surgical hypocortisolism cannot be pre-surgically ruled out. A steroid substitutive therapy is indicated after unilateral adrenalectomy for SH or size of the adenoma.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-99
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Endocrinology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Medicine(all)


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