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ACTH test

Alternative Names 
serum adrenocorticotropic hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone

This test measures the amount of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) in the blood. ACTH is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland. It regulates the production and secretion of the hormone cortisol by the adrenal gland.

Who is a candidate for the test? 
This test is normally performed on persons with a possible hormone problem. A doctor may suspect a problem specifically in the pituitary gland or the adrenal gland.

How is the test performed? 
To measure ACTH levels, a blood sample is taken from a vein on the forearm or hand. First, the skin over the vein is cleaned with an antiseptic. Next, a strong rubber tube, or tourniquet, is wrapped around the upper arm. This restricts blood flow in the veins in the lower arm and enlarges them. A fine needle is gently inserted into a vein, and the tourniquet is removed. Blood flows from the vein through the needle, and is collected in a vial for testing in the laboratory. After the needle is withdrawn, the puncture site is covered for a short time to prevent bleeding.

What is involved in preparation for the test? 
The doctor will provide specific instructions. Generally, no preparation is required.

What do the test results mean? 
Normal levels of ACTH in the blood may range from 2 to 12 pmol/L (picomoles per litre).

High levels of ACTH may be caused by:
  • abnormally decreased functioning in the adrenal glands, such as Addison's disease
  • pituitary gland tumour, or an abnormal growth in the pituitary gland
  • other tumours that abnormally produce ACTH
Low levels of ACTH can be caused by:
  • certain tumours of the adrenal gland
  • various diseases of the pituitary gland
  • abnormally increased functioning in the adrenal glands, such as Cushing's syndrome
Author: David T. Moran, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 15/03/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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