Navigating the ACTH Enigma in a Young Girl with CAH

December 22, 2023by Dr. S. F. Czar0


Sarah, a 7-year-old girl, was diagnosed with 21-hydroxylase deficiency (21-OHD) form of CAH at 3 months old due to ambiguous genitalia. She underwent corrective surgery shortly after diagnosis and has been on glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement therapy since then.

ACTH Enigma


Sarah’s parents brought her to the endocrinology clinic with concerns about her recent rapid weight gain, mood swings, and fatigue. They also noticed increased facial hair and deepening voice, suggestive of virilization despite seemingly adequate glucocorticoid dosage.


  • Physical examination: Confirmed mild clitoromegaly, hirsutism, and delayed breast development.
  • Laboratory tests: Revealed elevated ACTH levels, mildly elevated testosterone, and abnormal glucose tolerance, suggesting insulin resistance. Bone density scan showed early signs of osteopenia.


The constellation of findings pointed towards inadequate suppression of ACTH despite glucocorticoid replacement. This suggested possible factors such as medication non-compliance, altered glucocorticoid metabolism, or genetic variations in ACTH sensitivity.


  • Dose adjustment: Sarah’s glucocorticoid dose was cautiously increased while closely monitoring for potential side effects.
  • Metabolic monitoring: Dietary modifications and additional measures to improve insulin sensitivity were implemented.
  • Bone mineral density optimization: Calcium and vitamin D supplementation were added to address early osteopenia.
  • Genetic testing: Analysis of genes involved in ACTH signaling pathways was considered to explore potential genetic causes of altered sensitivity.


Over the next year, Sarah’s symptoms gradually improved. Her weight stabilized, mood swings lessened, and there was slight regression of virilization. Her bone density stabilized, and glucose tolerance tests showed modest improvement. Genetic testing revealed a rare variant in the CRH receptor gene, potentially contributing to her higher ACTH levels.


This case highlights the intricate interplay between ACTH and its diverse effects in CAH. It demonstrates the importance of considering various factors beyond simple glucocorticoid replacement to optimize treatment, particularly in the presence of atypical symptoms. By delving deeper into the ACTH enigma through comprehensive evaluation and personalized management, clinicians can navigate the complexities of CAH and improve the quality of life for their patients.

Points to Ponder:

  • What other investigations could be considered in Sarah’s case?
  • How can genetic information be used to personalize treatment for CAH patients?
  • What future advancements might further improve the management of CAH and the ACTH enigma?

This case study provides an illustrative example of navigating the ACTH enigma in a young girl with CAH. Remember, individual cases can vary significantly, and management decisions should be made in consultation with qualified healthcare professionals with expertise in CAH.

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