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Cortisol Blood Test

Last updated Oct. 11, 2015

What are the other Names for this Test? (Equivalent Terms)

  • Free Cortisol Blood Test
  • Hydrocortisone Blood Tes 

What is Cortisol Blood Test? (Background Information)

  • Cortisol is a glucocorticoid stress hormone important for its anti-inflammatory effects. It also releases stored nutrients for immediate use
  • Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands, which are two pyramid-shaped organs, each sitting atop one kidney. Cortisol secretion occurs upon stimulation by the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), from the pituitary gland
  • Glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, are released when the body is in a state of physical or mental exertion. One effect of cortisol is to increase the energy availability. It does this by stimulating the liver to produce glucose. It also does so by stimulating adipose (fat) cells to release fatty acids into blood, for immediate use
  • Another effect of cortisol is to suppress inflammation, which it does by inhibiting the effects of white blood cells and other components of the immune system
  • Certain disease states result from either excessive or deficient cortisol production. These can be caused by genetic factors, or due to cancer. Examples of such diseases include Cushing’s disease and Addison’s disease
  • The Cortisol Blood Test is a test, to assess the levels of cortisol in the body. It is used to test for diseases of cortisol insufficiency or cortisol excess. It is also used to assess pituitary gland and adrenal gland health 

What are the Clinical Indications for performing the Cortisol Blood Test?

Following are the clinical indications for performing a Cortisol Blood Test:

  • Rapid weight change
  • Fat deposition on the shoulders (“buffalo hump”) or face (“moon face”)
  • Excessive urination
  • Lesions in the mouth
  • Fragile skin
  • Purple streaks on the abdomen 

How is the Specimen Collected for Cortisol Blood Test?

Following is the specimen collection process for Cortisol Blood Test:

Sample required: Blood

Process: Insertion of a needle into an arm vein.

Preparation required: No special preparation is needed prior to the test. 

What is the Significance of the Cortisol Blood Test Result?

The significance of the Cortisol Blood Test is explained:

  • Increased cortisol levels may indicate:
    • Adrenal adenoma
    • Cushing’s syndrome
    • Ectopic ACTH production
    • Hyperglycemia
    • Stress
  • Decreased cortisol levels may indicate:
    • Addison’s disease
    • Adrenogenital syndrome
    • Hypopituitarism

The laboratory test results are NOT to be interpreted as results of a "stand-alone" test. The test results have to be interpreted after correlating with suitable clinical findings and additional supplemental tests/information. Your healthcare providers will explain the meaning of your tests results, based on the overall clinical scenario. 

Additional and Relevant Useful Information:

  • Cortisol’s anti-inflammatory effects make it useful for surface application through creams and gels. It may be administered onto a poison ivy rash, or other areas of irritation. In such cases, it helps decrease swelling; but, it also slows healing and increases susceptibility to infection. However, cortisol should never be applied to open wounds
  • Certain factors may interfere with the results of the Cortisol Blood Test. These include:
    • Excessive stress, prior to performing the test 

Certain medications that you may be currently taking may influence the outcome of the test. Hence, it is important to inform your healthcare provider, the complete list of medications (including any herbal supplements) you are currently taking. This will help the healthcare provider interpret your test results more accurately and avoid unnecessary chances of a misdiagnosis. 

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

DoveMed is currently working to bring you additional resources.

Please sign up by creating a DoveMed account to receive periodic notification on information updates. 

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Lab Tests Online (2013, March 18). Retrieved August 24, 2014 from http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/cortisol/

Martini, F., Nath, J. L., & Bartholomew, E. F. (2012). Fundamentals of anatomy & physiology (9th ed.). San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.

Schnell, Z. B., Van, L. A., & Kranpitz, T. R. (2003). Davis's Comprehensive handbook of laboratory and diagnostic tests: With nursing implications. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Aug. 25, 2014
Last updated: Oct. 11, 2015