Clinical Review Lesson of the week

Symptomatic adrenal insufficiency presenting with hypoglycaemia in asthmatic children with asthma receiving high dose inhaled fluticasone propionateCommentary: Exogenous glucocorticoids influence adrenal function, but assessment can be difficult

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7345.1081 (Published 04 May 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1081

Children taking high dose fluticasone propionate may present with hypoglycaemia secondary to iatrogenic adrenal suppression

Symptomatic adrenal insufficiency presenting with hypoglycaemia in asthmatic children with asthma receiving high dose inhaled fluticasone propionate

  1. A J Drake, specialist registrar in paediatric endocrinologya,
  2. R J Howells, specialist registrar in paediatricsb,
  3. J P H Shield, consultant senior lecturera,
  4. A Prendiville, consultant paediatricianc,
  5. P S Ward, consultant paediatriciand,
  6. E C Crowne (eccrowne@bch.u-net.com), consultant paediatric endocrinologist and diabetologista
  1. a Department of Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Bristol BS2 8BJ
  2. b Southmead Hospital, Westbury on Trym, Bristol BS10 5NB
  3. c Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, Truro TR1 3LJ
  4. d Derriford Hospital, Plymouth PL6 8DH
  5. Cobbold Laboratories, Middlesex Hospital, London W1T 3AA
  1. Correspondence to: E C Crowne
  • Accepted 25 July 2001

Children taking high dose fluticasone propionate may present with hypoglycaemia secondary to iatrogenic adrenal suppression

Inhaled corticosteroids are central to the successful long term management of asthma and are generally regarded as safe.1 Systemic adverse effects have been described in children but are thought to be rare.2 High dose inhaled corticosteroids are used in the step-up phase of treatment to optimise the control of asthma. Fluticasone propionate may be prescribed at higher doses to relieve respiratory symptoms in the belief that it generates fewer side effects than other inhaled steroids. Some studies have shown that fluticasone is safer than beclomethasone or budesonide, with limited oral absorption and extensive hepatic first pass metabolism leading to a lower systemic bioavailability.3 Others have shown that appreciable amounts of inhaled fluticasone are absorbed from the lung4; fluticasone has also been associated with growth retardation and adrenal suppression in children.5 Reports of adrenal insufficiency in childhood secondary to inhaled steroids have not described hypoglycaemia as a presenting feature.5, 6, 7 We report on four children with asthma presenting with acute hypoglycaemia secondary to adrenal suppression caused by inhaled fluticasone propionate.

Case reports

Case 1—An 8 year old boy was investigated for a three year history of seizures during intercurrent illnesses, associated with hypoglycaemia (glucose 0.6-1.8 mmol/l; normal range 2.8-6.5 mmol/l). His height was on the second centile, below that predicted from parental heights. He had no cushingoid features. His asthma had been controlled with inhaled fluticasone 1000 µg daily for 5 years. A standard short Synacthen test (Alliance Pharmaceuticals, Wiltshire) showed a peak serum cortisol concentration of less than 20 nmol/l (expected >550 nmol/l). The baseline concentration of adrenocorticotrophic hormone was 6.2 …

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