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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.

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Endocrine glands

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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 glucocorticoid (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 (2 to 11 pmol/L).

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:

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:

Related Information

Addison disease
Adrenoleukodystrophy
Cushing disease
Ectopic Cushing syndrome
Cushing syndrome due to adrenal tumor
Cushing syndrome
Hypopituitarism
Multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) I

References

Chernecky CC, Berger BJ. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH, corticotropin) – serum. In: Chernecky CC, Berger BJ, eds. Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:107.

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; 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; 2016:chap 15.

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Review Date: 5/7/2017  

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, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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