ACTH

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Also known as: Corticotropin; Cosyntropin
Formal name: Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
Related tests: Cortisol, Cortrosyn (ACTH) Stimulation Test, Dexamethasone Suppression Test, Androstenedione

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To help diagnose adrenal and pituitary diseases such as Cushing syndrome, Cushing disease, Addison disease, adrenal tumors, and pituitary tumors

When to Get Tested?

When you have symptoms associated with excess or deficient cortisol production; when your doctor suspects that you have a hormone imbalance that could be caused by a problem with your pituitary or adrenal glands

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm

Test Preparation Needed?

Your doctor may request that you fast overnight before testing. Blood is typically drawn in the morning, about 8 a.m.

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is a hormone that stimulates the production of cortisol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone important for regulating glucose, protein, and lipid metabolism, suppressing the immune system's response, and helping to maintain blood pressure. This test measures the amount of ACTH in the blood.

ACTH is produced by the pituitary gland. Located below the brain in the center of the head, the pituitary gland is part of the endocrine system, a network of glands that work together to produce hormones that act on organs, tissues, and other glands to regulate systems throughout the body.Feedback system between hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands

Normally, ACTH levels increase when cortisol is low and fall when cortisol is high. When cortisol levels fall in the blood, the hypothalamus produces corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). This stimulates the production of ACTH by the pituitary, which in turn stimulates the production of cortisol by the adrenal glands, small organs located at the top of each kidney. In order for appropriate amounts of cortisol to be made, the hypothalamus and both the pituitary and adrenal glands must be functioning properly.

Conditions that affect the pituitary or adrenal glands can increase or decrease the amount of ACTH and cortisol the glands produce and interfere with their regulation. This can cause signs and symptoms associated with an excess or deficiency of cortisol. Some tumors found outside of the pituitary in locations such as the lungs can also increase cortisol concentrations by producing ACTH.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is taken by needle from a vein in the arm.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

Your doctor may request that you fast overnight before testing. Blood is typically drawn in the morning, about 8 a.m.

The Test

Common Questions

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Article Sources

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.

Sources Used in Current Review

(Reviewed Dec. 11, 2012) ACTH (cosyntropin) stimulation test. Medline Plus. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003696.htm. Accessed Sept. 20, 2012.

(Updated Dec. 12, 2011) ACTH. Medline Plus. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003695.html. Accessed Sept. 20, 2012.

Medscape Reference. Addison Disease Workup. Available online at http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/116467-workup through http://emedicine.medscape.com. Accessed Sept. 20, 2012.

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(Updated Dec 12, 2011). Dexamethasone Suppression Test. Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003694.htm. Accessed on Sept. 20, 2012.

(Oct 2, 2010) Hypopituitarism. Mayo Clinic. Available online at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypopituitarism/DS00479/DSECTION=tests-and-diagnosis through http://www.mayoclinic.com. Accessed on Sept. 20, 2012.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews

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Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. (2001). Mosby's Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference 5th Edition: Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO.

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Holt, E. (Updated 2008 March 18). ACTH. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Previously available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003695.htm. Accessed August 2009.

Holt, E. (Updated 2008 March 18). Dexamethasone suppression test. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003694.htm. Accessed August 2009.

Holt, E. (Updated 2008 March 18). ACTH (cosyntropin) stimulation test MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003696.htm. Accessed August 2009.

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