Adrenal insufficiency and aspergillosis
Cortisol and aldosterone are important hormones our bodies need in order to stay healthy, fit and active. They are produced by the adrenal glands which are sited at the top of each of our kidneys.
Sometimes our adrenal glands may not be able to produce enough cortisol and aldosterone, for example when the glands are mistakenly attacked and destroyed by a person’s immune system – this is Addison’s disease (see also addisonsdisease.org.uk). The lost hormones can be replaced by medication from an endocrinologist and the patient can live a normal life. This form of adrenal insufficiency is not a feature of aspergillosis.
Unfortunately, people who take corticosteroid medication (e.g. prednisolone) for longer periods of time (more than 2-3 weeks) can also find that they have low levels of cortisol as their corticosteroid medication can suppress the production of their own cortisol, especially if high doses are taken.
Once the corticosteroid medication is stopped your adrenal glands will usually re-activate but it may take some time which is why your doctor will tell you to slowly taper down your dose of corticosteroid carefully over several weeks, to allow your adrenal glands to recover.
What has this got to do with aspergillosis?
People with chronic forms of aspergillosis & asthma can find themselves taking corticosteroid medication for quite long periods of time in order to control their breathlessness and allow comfortable breathing. Consequently, they may find that they have to take care when reducing their dose of corticosteroid and proceed gradually to allow their own natural cortisol production to resume safely. Reducing too quickly can cause a range of symptoms including fatigue, fainting, nausea, fever, dizziness.
These are powerful drugs and must be handled with care so if you have any concerns contact your GP without delay.
Other medication you may be taking to treat aspergillosis has also rarely been associated with causing adrenal insufficiency e.g. some azole antifungal medication, so it is worthwhile to remain vigilant for relevant symptoms (see list above). However, note that symptoms such as fatigue are very common in someone with aspergillosis.
For other details on taking corticosteroid medication see aspergillosis.org/steroids/
Steroid Emergency Card
The NHS has issued a recommendation that all patients who are steroid dependant (i.e. should not abruptly stop corticosteroid medication) carry a Steroid Emergency Card to inform health practitioners that you need daily steroid medication in the event you are taken into hospital and are unable to communicate.
NOTE patients attending the National Aspergillosis Centre in Manchester can collect a card at pharmacy.