The pathophysiology underlying pseudotumor cerebri syndrome (PTCS) is complex and not well understood. There are clear differences between PTCS in adults and pediatrics. Few and isolated case reports have suggested that adrenal function may be involved, yet no large cohort study has examined this relationship.
We conducted a retrospective single-center study of children who presented with a diagnosis of PTCS and had cortisol testing measured between January 2010 and September 2019. We included all subjects meeting the revised PTCS diagnostic criteria after the chart review. Based on morning, random or 1-μg cosyntropin stimulated cortisol levels, adrenal functioning was classified as: (1) insufficient (peak cortisol <16 μg/dL and AM cortisol <5 μg/dL), (2) at risk (peak cortisol 16–20 μg/dL, AM cortisol 5–13 μg/dL, or random <13 μg/dL), or (3) sufficient (peak cortisol >20 μg/dL and AM or random cortisol >13 μg/dL).
A total of 398 individuals were reviewed, and 64 were included for analysis. Of these, 40.6% were men, of mixed race and ethnicity with a mean age of 10.5 (SD 4.7) years. Of these, 23% and 52% had insufficient or at-risk cortisol levels. The majority of those in the insufficient (70%) or at-risk (80%) groups were exposed to topical, nasal, or inhaled glucocorticoids but not systemic. Only 60% and 12% of those with PTCS with insufficient or at-risk cortisol testing, respectively, underwent definitive testing with a stimulation test.
Glucocorticoid use and hypocortisolism are prevalent in PTCS and need consideration as a potential underlying cause. Most children had insufficient or at-risk cortisol levels, and many did not undergo further testing/workup. Children who present with PTCS, particularly young, males should be evaluated for adrenal insufficiency and its risk factors, including nonsystemic steroids. Prospective studies are necessary to further evaluate the effect of cortisol in relation to pediatric PTCS.