What Does a Low Level of Cortisol Mean?


Quick Answer

A low level of cortisol in the blood may be indicative of adrenal gland problems, such as tuberculosis infection of the adrenal glands or Addison’s disease, according to WebMD. Lower than usual levels of cortisol can also be caused by pituitary gland problems.

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Full Answer

Cortisol is a hormone that is produced naturally by the body, according to WebMD. Normal cortisol levels vary depending on whether the levels are checked in the morning or afternoon. For adults and children, morning levels range from 5 to 23 micrograms per deciliter or mcg/dL, while readings between 3 and 16 mcg/dL are normal for specimens collected in the afternoon. Levels in newborns are slightly less, with 2 to 11 mcg/dL considered normal.

High levels of cortisol in the blood can indicate Cushing’s syndrome, which is a disorder caused by overactivity of the adrenal glands, some types of cancer, long-term corticosteroid use or adrenal gland tumors, as noted by WebMD. Kidney or liver disease can also cause high cortisol levels, as can obesity, hyperthyroidism and depression. Recent surgery, injury, illness or sepsis can also cause a marked elevation of cortisol levels. In addition, use of birth control pills or being pregnant may cause cortisol levels to rise.

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