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Synacthen test

What is a synacthen test?

A synacthen test (sometimes known as the short synacthen test) checks whether your pituitary gland (a tiny bit inside your brain) and adrenal glands (triangular body parts above your kidneys) are working properly. Cortisol is the stress hormone that is released by the adrenal glands. Cortisol controls your blood pressure and blood sugar levels to help your body in stressful situations such as illness, infection and trauma.

The levels of cortisol in the body are controlled by the pituitary gland and this test is needed to check that everything is working properly.

How does the synacthen test work?

We will give you synacthen, a medication which tells your adrenal glands to make cortisol. We then take a few blood samples at different times to measure your cortisol levels.

The easiest way to give the medication and take the blood samples is by putting a plastic tube called a ‘cannula’ into a vein. This usually goes in the back of the hand or arm. A local anaesthetic cream or cold spray will be used to help stop any pain and discomfort.

The test can be done as a day case the test usually takes around 2 hours.

Unlike surgeries, you can eat during this procedure.

Will it hurt?

Cold spray can be used to numb your child’s skin before we put the cannula in. If your child would prefer to use local anaesthetic cream, you should arrive on Daycare 30 minutes earlier than your appointment time to allow time for this cream to work. You will need to ask the staff on Daycare to apply the cream when you arrive on the ward.

What else happens while I am there?

Once the cannula is in, you can play with toys, read books or watch TV.

You are also allowed to eat so your can bring your favourite drinks and snacks with you. We will also provide some toast, juice, cereal and snacks.

What about my medications?

If you have any prescribed medications, they should be taken as normal before you come in. Please double check this with your medical team if you are not sure.


Current or recent steroid treatment, including steroid inhalers (pumps) for asthma or other steroid medicines such as nasal sprays, creams or eye drops, may interfere with cortisol levels which can make interpreting your results more difficult. If you have been taking steroids then your doctor or nurse specialist will give you specific advice about when to stop steroids before the test. Please check your appointment letter for instructions. Please bring all your medications with you to the synacthen test appointment.

What happens after my test?

You will be discharged once you have fully recovered from the test and feeling well.

When will my results come back?

The results take around 1 month to be analysed. Your consultant might write to you with the results or want to talk about them with you at your next appointment.

What happens if I cannot make my appointment?

Please make every effort to attend the appointment. If the date or time you have been given is not convenient or your child is unwell, please contact the Endocrine nurse on 0114 226 7815.

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the endocrine clinical nurse specialists on: 0114 226 7815 between 8.30am and 5pm.

Out of these hours please contact the on-call medical team at Sheffield Children’s Hospital on: 0114 271 7000

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: END16

Resource Type: Article

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