Adrenal insufficiency in patients with liver failure, referred to as hepatoadrenal syndrome, is well characterized in adult patients but has not yet been described in children. We present 22 pediatric subjects with end-stage liver disease and adrenal insufficiency, diagnosed using the cosyntropin stimulation test.
Design and Setting:
A retrospective chart review using inpatient records from a pediatric intensive care unit in an academic medical center with a busy pediatric transplant program.
Most were infants with anatomical short gut and severe, total parenteral nutrition-induced liver failure awaiting liver transplantation. Many were critically ill; 68% required mechanical ventilation and 59% required vasopressors.
Measurements and Main Results:
All patients had low baseline cortisol levels and ten also had an abnormal cosyntropin stimulation test. Cortisol levels at baseline and increments of serum cortisol at 30 and 60 mins post cosyntropin were 9.3 ± 5 μg/dL, 9.3 ± 4 μg/dL, and 10.7 ± 6 μg/dL, respectively, compared to these values in five patients with liver failure and normal adrenal function (21.3 ± 3 μg/dL, 10.5 ± 5 μg/dL, and 12.7 ± 3 μg/dL, respectively). Baseline cortisol levels were higher in patients who required vasopressors (11.1 ± 5 μg/dL) compared to those who did not (6.6 ± 4.3 μg/dL, p = .04), and 60-min increment cortisol levels were lower in nonsurvivors compared to survivors (8.6 ± 4.8 μg/dL vs. 15.1 ± 5.1 μg/dL, p = .002). The severity of adrenal insufficiency did not correlate with the degree of hepatic decompensation. Clinical characteristics, including serum electrolytes and vasopressor requirements, were similar in patients with hepatoadrenal syndrome and patients with liver failure and normal adrenal function. Twelve (55%) of the patients died in the hospital, 11 without receiving a transplant. Hydrocortisone therapy permitted rapid weaning of vasopressor therapy but did not affect survival.
Children with end-stage liver disease are at risk for hepatoadrenal syndrome and should have their cortisol levels monitored since clinical manifestations may not be diagnostic.