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Do we need 30 min cortisol measurement in the short synacthen test: a retrospective study
  1. Rajeev Kumar1,
  2. Peter Carr2,
  3. Kimberley Moore3,
  4. Zeeshan Rajput4,
  5. Louise Ward3,
  6. W S Wassif3
  1. 1 Diabetes and Endocrinology, Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, Bedford, UK
  2. 2 Statistical Analyst, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  3. 3 Clinical Biochemistry, Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, Bedford, UK
  4. 4 Department of Acute Medicine, Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, Bedford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rajeev Kumar, Diabetes and Endocrinology, Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, Bedford MK42 9DJ, UK; rajeev.kumar{at}


Objective The short synacthen test (SST) is widely used across the UK to assess adrenal reserve but there remains no consensus on the timing of cortisol sampling to help diagnose adrenal insufficiency. The main objective of our study was to see if both 30 and 60 min sample are required following administration of synacthen to investigate suspected adrenal insufficiency (AI).

Design This was a single-centre retrospective study of 393 SSTs measuring 0, 30 and 60 min cortisol levels after administration of 250 µg of synacthen.

Patients and methods All the SSTs for patients suspected of primary or secondary AI between April 2016 and October 2018 were included in this study. The tests were performed as per our hospital protocol. A post-adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) cortisol response of 420 nmol/L at any time point was considered adequate to rule out AI. The data were analysed to ascertain the proportion of patients who achieved this level at 30 and/or 60 min.

Results A total of 393 SST results were included in this study. Patients were divided into two groups depending on whether (group A) or not (group B) they were on steroids. Overall, a total of 313 (79.6%) subjects achieved cortisol level of ≥420 nmol/L at 30 and 60 min while 19 (4.8%) had late response (ie, insufficient 30 min cortisol levels, rising to ≥420 nmol/L at 60 min). Another 61 subjects (15.5%) showed insufficient response at both 30 and 60 min (ie, failed to achieved level of ≥420 nmol/L). Importantly, there was no patient in either group who had adequate response at 30 min and then failed at 60 min. Patients in group A were more likely to have inadequate response at both 30 and 60 min while patients in group B were more likely to have normal response at both time points.

Conclusions Our results suggest that about 5% of people undergoing SST may be inappropriately diagnosed as having AI (and subjected to long-term unnecessary steroid treatment) if the 60 min sample is not maintained. We suggest that 30 min sample does not add any additional diagnostic utility and can be omitted thus simplifying SST even further and saving on cost and resources. We propose that single measurement after 60 min of administration of synthetic ACTH is a sufficient screening test for AI.

  • synacthem
  • adrenal
  • ACTH
  • pituitary

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  • Contributors RK contributed to the conception and design of the study, and wrote the first draft. PC performed and wrote the statistical analysis. KM collected the data and carried out initial data analysis. ZR contributed to clinical data collection. LW contributed to the conception and design of the study. WW contributed to the conception and design of the study, and the writing of the article. All authors have given their approval for the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval After careful consideration, we decided not to seek patient consent or ethical approval as the data collection was retrospective and all data were completely anonymised.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request.