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Acth Test

Alternate Names

  • serum adrenocorticotropic hormone
  • adrenocorticotropic hormone

Definition

This test measures the amount of adrenocorticotrophic hormone, abbreviated as ACTH, in the blood.

Who is a candidate for the test?

This test is normally performed on persons with whose hormone levels are not in a healthy range. A doctor may suspect that a problem in the pituitary gland is linked to malfunction of 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 called a 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 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 After the needle is withdrawn, the puncture site is covered for a short time to prevent bleeding.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 healthcare professional will provide specific instructions. Generally, no preparation is required.

What do the test results mean?

Healthy levels of ACTH in the blood vary widely depending on the time of day and the person's clinical situation.
Higher than expected levels of ACTH may be caused by:
  • a slowdown in functioning of the adrenal glands, such as Addison disease
  • pituitary gland tumor, which is an abnormal growth in the pituitary gland
  • other tumors that produce excess ACTH
Lower than expected levels of ACTH can be caused by:
  • excess production of cortisol by the adrenal glands, which occurs in conditions such as Cushing syndrome
  • certain tumors of the adrenal gland
  • various diseases of the pituitary gland

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