Cortisol Deficiency Symptoms

About Cortisol Deficiency Symptoms

If you have problems with your adrenal glands or hormone irregularities, it is important to be on the look out for cortisol deficiency symptoms so that you can catch them early.  What follows is a short overview of what you should be on the lookout for when it comes to cortisol deficiency symptoms, but if you have any questions or concerns, be sure to consult your doctor.  Nothing that you read here should be taken in lieu of a visit to your doctor and a specific diagnosis.

What is a cortisol deficiency?

Cortisol is the hormone produced by the outer ring or your adrenal glands.  The inner gland is known as the medulla, and has its own set of hormones to produce.  Often if there is a problem with the cortex—the outer adrenal ring that produces cortisol—there are also problems with the inner gland but this is not always the case.

In case you are curious where you might find your adrenal glands, here is a little map for you.  Your adrenal glands take up that precious real estate just north of your kidneys, in the general zip code of your lower abdominal cavity.

There can be more than one reason why the cortex stops producing an adequate amount of cortisol.  In a healthy normally functioning body, the pituitary gland spurts out some adrenocorticotropin, which signals the cortex to circulate its load of cortisol.  Sometimes, however, something disrupts this process and the cortex does not send out enough cortisol. This is sometimes due to a malfunction of the pituitary gland, which as you know, is one of the major glands in the body having interconnections with various functions within our biological systems.  The pituitary gland actually works as a cortisol surveyor continuously assessing the mixture of hormones in the blood to determine if the mix is right.  When the pituitary detects a deficiency in cortisol, it produces adrenocorticotropin and tries to correct the problem.  Sometimes one of the glands fails to respond adequately however.  If the cortisol deficiency symptoms are not caught in time and treated, sufferers with this condition have been known to die.


Cortisol deficiency can be the result of any of a number of diseases and conditions.  Physicians term the lack hormones due to those diseases that attack the cortex or medulla themselves, “primary hypoadrenalism.”  When the cause of low cortisol is not the cortex but the pituitary (or the communication between the two), physicians term this “secondary hypoadrenalism.”


There are several symptoms associated with cortisol deficiency, but the telltale symptom in the case of primary hypoadrenalism is a permanent suntan even if the person has not been to the beach in weeks or months.  This darkening of the skin is the direct result of having too much adrenocorticotropin in the blood due to the pituitary’s attempt to regulate the lack of cortisol and when combined with the other less specific symptoms should be enough to tip your physician off to your condition.  This suntan however is not always present when secondary hypoadrenalism is the cause since the body may not be flush with adrenocorticotropin when the pituitary malfunctions.  In this case, the other symptoms must be paid attention to by you and your physician.


Other symptoms include feeling generally tired, getting light headed or losing your balance more easily, and sometimes feeling as if you are going to pass out.  You may also feel a general lack of strength or vitality, or experience a loss in total body mass for no particular reason.  Some people with low cortisol also claim to have more stomach ailments.  Patients also report joint pain in higher numbers when suffering from low cortisol.

Sufferers also report an increase in certain psychological symptoms, such as a greater propensity towards depression and higher difficulty in maintaining concentration.

Finally, in certain severe cases, the adrenal glands will rupture and internal bleeding will take place.  Patients experience this as an intense back pain, and if not taken care of immediately may lead to death.

If you are at all worried about any unusual symptoms that you may have, be sure to contact your physician right away.