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ACTH blood test

Serum adrenocorticotropic hormone; Adrenocorticotropic hormone; Highly-sensitive ACTH

The ACTH test measures the level of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in the blood. ACTH is a hormone released from the pituitary gland in the brain.

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed.

How to Prepare for the Test

Your doctor will likely ask you to have the test done early in the morning. This is important, because cortisol level varies throughout the day.

You may also be told to stop taking medicines that can affect the test results. These medicines include glucocorticoids such as prednisone, hydrocortisone, or dexamethasone.

How the Test will Feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain. Others feel only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing or slight bruising. This soon goes away.

Why the Test is Performed

The main function of ACTH is to regulate the steroid hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released by the adrenal gland. It regulates blood pressure and blood sugar.

This test can help find the causes of certain hormone problems.

Normal Results

Normal values for a blood sample taken early in the morning are 9 to 52 pg/mL.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or may test different specimens. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What Abnormal Results Mean

A higher-than-normal level of ACTH may indicate:

A lower-than-normal level of ACTH may indicate:

  • Pituitary gland not producing enough hormones, such as ACTH (hypopituitarism)
  • Tumor of the adrenal gland that produces too much cortisol
  • Glucocorticoid medicines are suppressing ACTH production

Risks

Veins and arteries vary in size from one person to another and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling lightheaded
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

References

Ferri FF. Cushing's disease and syndrome. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2016. Philadelphia: PA Elsevier Mosby; 2016:385-386.

Melmed S, Kleinberg D. Pituitary masses and tumors. Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 9.

Stewart PM, Newell-Price JDC. The adrenal cortex. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 15.

    • Endocrine glands

      Endocrine glands - illustration

      Endocrine glands release hormones (chemical messengers) into the bloodstream to be transported to various organs and tissues throughout the body. For instance, the pancreas secretes insulin, which allows the body to regulate levels of sugar in the blood. The thyroid gets instructions from the pituitary to secrete hormones which determine the pace of chemical activity in the body (the more hormone in the bloodstream, the faster the chemical activity; the less hormone, the slower the activity).

      Endocrine glands

      illustration

      • Endocrine glands

        Endocrine glands - illustration

        Endocrine glands release hormones (chemical messengers) into the bloodstream to be transported to various organs and tissues throughout the body. For instance, the pancreas secretes insulin, which allows the body to regulate levels of sugar in the blood. The thyroid gets instructions from the pituitary to secrete hormones which determine the pace of chemical activity in the body (the more hormone in the bloodstream, the faster the chemical activity; the less hormone, the slower the activity).

        Endocrine glands

        illustration

      Tests for ACTH blood test

       

      Review Date: 10/28/2015

      Reviewed By: Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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