Free Cortisol Is a More Accurate Marker for Adrenal Function and Does Not Correlate with Renal Function in Cirrhosis

Eleni Theocharidou, Olga Giouleme, Sotirios Anastasiadis, Aikaterini Markopoulou, Efstathios Pagourelias, Themistoklis Vassiliadis, Athanasios Fotoglidis, Polyxeni Agorastou, Aristeidis Slavakis, Aikaterini Balaska, Maria G Kouskoura, Thomas D Gossios, Asterios Karagiannis, Christos S Mantzoros
Digestive Diseases and Sciences 2019, 64 (6): 1686-1694

BACKGROUND: The accuracy of diagnosis and clinical implications of the hepatoadrenal syndrome, as currently diagnosed using total cortisol, remain to be validated.

AIM: The aim of this study was to assess adrenal function using free cortisol in stable cirrhosis and study the potential implications of any abnormalities for renal and/or cardiac function.

METHODS: Sixty-one stable consecutively enrolled patients with cirrhosis underwent assessment of adrenal function using the low-dose short Synacthen test, renal function by 51 Cr-EDTA glomerular filtration rate (GFR), and cardiac function by two-dimensional echocardiography.

RESULTS: Eleven patients (18%) had total peak cortisol (PC) < 500 nmol/L, but no patient had free PC < 33 nmol/L indicating that diagnosis of AI using total cortisol is not confirmed using free cortisol. Free cortisol did not correlate with GFR or parameters of cardiac function. Patients with higher Child-Pugh class had progressively lower free cortisol. Patients with low GFR < 60 mL/min (N = 22) had more frequently grade II-III diastolic dysfunction (66.7% vs. 17.6%; p = 0.005) and had higher Child-Pugh and MELD score compared to those with normal GFR.

CONCLUSIONS: Diagnosis of AI using total cortisol is not confirmed using free cortisol and is thus considered unreliable in cirrhosis. Free cortisol is not associated with renal or cardiac dysfunction. Lower free cortisol in more advanced stages of liver disease might be secondary to decreased synthesis due to lower cholesterol levels. Irrespective of free cortisol, parameters of cardiac dysfunction are associated with renal impairment supporting the cardio-renal hypothesis.

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