A cortisol level test uses a blood sample to measure the level of cortisol present in your blood. Cortisol is a steroid hormone released by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys. A cortisol level test may also be called a serum cortisol test.
To help diagnose Cushing syndrome or primary or secondary adrenal insufficiency (Addison disease); to detect conditions affecting the pituitary or adrenal glands.
When your healthcare provider suspects excess or deficient cortisol production.
A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm or a random or 24-hour urine sample; sometimes a saliva sample may be used.
Find answers to common questions about patient lab test results. For additional help, contact our Health Information Management Services department.
A cortisol test is used to help diagnose disorders of the adrenal gland. These include Cushing's syndrome, a condition that causes your body to make too much cortisol, and Addison disease, a condition in which your body doesn't make enough cortisol.
You may need a cortisol test if you have symptoms of Cushing's syndrome or Addison disease. You may also need a cortisol test if you have symptoms of an adrenal crisis, a life-threatening condition that can happen when your cortisol levels are extremely low.
A cortisol test is usually in the form of a blood test. During a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
Stress can raise your cortisol levels, so you may need to rest before your test. A blood test will require you to schedule two appointments at different times of the day. Twenty-four hour urine and saliva tests are done at home. Be sure to follow all the instructions given by your provider.
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly. There are no known risks to a urine or saliva test.
High levels of cortisol may mean you have Cushing's syndrome, while low levels may mean you have Addison disease or another type of adrenal disease. If your cortisol results are not normal, it doesn't necessarily mean you have a medical condition needing treatment. Other factors, including infection, stress, and pregnancy can affect your results. Birth control pills and other medicines can also affect your cortisol levels. To learn what your results mean, talk to your health care provider.
If your cortisol levels are not normal, your health care provider will likely order more tests before making a diagnosis. These tests may include additional blood and urine tests and imaging tests, such as CT (computerized tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans, which allow your provider to look at your adrenal and pituitary glands.
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