Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and plays a vital role in keeping the body alert. Low cortisol can cause disturbance in the body’s metabolism, low blood pressure, skin problems, and sexual disorders. Extreme cases of cortisol deficiency can result in a life-threatening condition called adrenal crisis.
Disturbance in metabolism will impair the ability of the body to burn calories or convert food into energy that helps the body sustain itself. When this happens, blood sugar will be low. There will also be a deficiency in glycogen, which is needed by the body for energy in order to manage stress and avoid fatigue.
Low blood pressure can have serious medical consequences. A person can be injured as a result of a bad fall due to dizziness caused by low blood pressure. He or she can also experience a blackout.
Generally, low cortisol results in the augmentation of other hormones that in turn trigger the melanocyte cells to be more active. The melanocyte cells that take charge of skin pigmentation will consequently cause skin discoloration. This skin problem is known as hyperpigmentation.
Sexual disorders resulting from low cortisol include the loss of sexual appetite in both males and females. Women who are in their childbearing years can suffer from absence of menstruation, or amenorrhea. Low cortisol can also cause sterility in women.
Adrenal crisis arises when the adrenal gland or the pituitary gland is damaged. Damage to the adrenal gland is known as Addison’s disease, which is indicated by low blood pressure, browning of the skin, gastrointestinal problems, weight loss, and poor appetite. Adrenal crisis is also likely to occur when adrenal deficiency is not immediately addressed.
The early symptoms of low cortisol are quite common, such that they can be mistaken as symptoms of other diseases. A blood test must be performed to confirm that a person indeed has low cortisol. Blood samples are typically taken twice — one in the morning when the cortisol level is high and one in the evening when the cortisol level is expected to be low. Rest is essential prior to taking the blood test. A person who will undergo the blood test is normally advised to avoid taxing activities at least a day before the test is performed.
A person with low cortisol is normally given a daily dose of hydrocortisone to replace the lacking cortisol. Hydrocortisone injections are immediately given in case of adrenal crisis. Antibiotics are also given if the cause of the adrenal crisis is infection.