How Do I Know When to Reduce My Stress Dose?

A question I see often in ALL of the adrenal insufficiency support groups groups is, “How do I know when to reduce my stress dose?” Here is how I know:

About 3 weeks ago I injured my back. I’m prone to annular tears between my lumbar and sacral spine. I was in a lot of constant pain and could hardly move. So I had to stress dose. (Double my normal dose, but as a “sick” profile NOT doubling my normal basal program.) I couldn’t afford the $200 self pay for the chiropractor, so I decided to treat it with CBD and yoga. It was very painful and difficult to do yoga when it hurt to move, but it was also effective, so steadily it has gotten better.

So now here I am back to my “normal”, which does include some back pain, but manageable. I’ve been on my 60mg profile for this whole 3 weeks. Seems like a long time, but I have certain signs I look for to know when it’s time to reduce. I’ve found over the years that if I drop my dose down too soon or too quickly then I sabotage myself and make the whole process much longer and more challenging. Even with my stress dose I was feeling exhausted, not a whole lot of appetite, and I was feeling overwhelmed with all the tasks piling up around the house.

Things have been slowly improving and I started to wonder when it was time to reduce the dose. Today I saw ALL the signs. Before you reduce your dose from an injury use this checklist:

**NOTE: This only pertains to stress dosing. Do not change your daily replacement dose based on this criteria. Please discuss all dosage decisions with your doctor.**

1. Pain is well controlled.

I’m still taking CBD twice daily and doing yoga a few times a week to keep my back stretched and strengthened.


2. Energy is good.

I had a very productive day and checked everything off my to do list for once. I cleaned up the house, did laundry, baked, even had time to read.

3. In control.

As in not overwhelmed or frustrated.


4. Appetite is good.

I have been more hungry today than in the last week. More than normal hungry, so that’s a big clue.


5. Waking up earlier.

I try to be out of bed by 8, but on pain days that’s a struggle. I know I’m feeling better when I’m out of bed on time with no issues.

It was pointed out by another knowledgeable cortisol pumper that one thing NOT on my checklist is weight. I do not use my weight to determine when to decrease my stress dose. Fluctuations in weight can be misleading and sometimes can be due to water retention from being less active while sick or injured, or weight gain can be from…not sure the polite way to say this…being full of poop. Its not uncommon for people to get a little constipated while sick, on pain medications or antibiotics. Antibiotics can kill off intestinal flora which can cause some GI upsets long after whatever infection caused you to need the antibiotics in the first place.

Sadly, all too often I see people with adrenal insufficiency cause themselves so much unnecessary suffering because they think they look puffy, or their scale went up 5-10lbs, or they’re just afraid of possible weight gain. They disregard their current quality of life and begin a difficult and sometimes traumatic steroid decrease too soon. I’ve been guilty of this myself plenty of times, enough that I’ve finally learned my lesson.

I hope this helps someone out! It always feels like a gamble deciding when to reduce. Sometimes I think steroid guilt drives us to cut down too soon and we suffer longer.

**NOTE: This only pertains to stress dosing. Do not change your daily replacement dose based on this criteria. Please discuss all dosage decisions with your doctor.**

UPDATE: Please check out thecortisolpump.com a comprehensive and research based guide to cortisol pumping!

Extreme Cortisol Pumping: Pumping During Surgery

A few days ago, I had my 10th surgery. This one was different as opposed to the previous nine. For the first time I was permitted to wear my pump during the procedure.


So how did it go?


This was a fairly quick, laparoscopic abdominal surgery. Patients without comorbidities are usually back home in a few hours. Since I have adrenal insufficiency and some signs of pheochromocytoma, they did keep me a little longer as a precaution. 

Speaking of precautions, if you have adrenal insufficiency you MUST speak to your surgeon, endocrinologist and anesthesiologist about your steroid plan for surgery. Everyone needs to be on the same page. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard adrenal insufficient patients say, “oh the anesthesiologist knows what to do” DO NOT EVER MAKE THAT ASSUMPTION! They do tend to keep solu-cortef in the operating room, but that doesn’t mean they will dose it correctly. Some anesthesiologists deviate from the standard of care and come up with their own plan using less steroid. They think they’re doing you a favor, when really they are unknowingly endangering your life and hindering your recovery. DO NOT LEAVE THIS UP TO CHANCE! Make sure you’re on the same page!


As soon as surgery was mentioned, I made my concerns clear. I knew there would need to be special precautions because of the risk of adrenal crisis or hypertensive episodes due to pheo. I spoke to my surgeon and endo about this as well as two anesthesiologists. I had to have more tests than the norm in order to be cleared for surgery. I had to have any possible pheo activity blocked by taking blood pressure medication for a couple months. At this hospital they don’t assign an anesthesiologist until the night before the procedure. This makes communication a challenge, but by the time I actually met her, pretty much everyone including the nurses had already heard about my steroid plan and pheo concerns. When I discussed it with her, she had already heard my plan and was thankfully in agreement. I would receive 100mg of solu-cortef before and after the procedure and keep my pump running.

https://www.addisons.org.uk/files/file/4-adshg-surgical-guidelines/


This is where I made a mistake. I planned on running a straight 10mg/hr during the procedure. However I forgot to program that profile into my pump. I programmed it in pre-op and realized my settings only allowed me to go as high as 8mg/hr. I didn’t want to edit my settings at the last minute, so I programmed 8mg/hr. That would have worked just fine except I FORGOT TO SWITCH OVER TO THAT PROFILE. Yes, it is all well and good to program a profile, but you have to actually “run” said profile for it to work. Oops! So during the procedure I was running my normal every day basal program of 30.2mg/daily. 🤦‍♀️


I woke up being wheeled into recovery. My abdomen hurt so bad. They gave me IV pain medication, but the relief began to fade after a couple minutes. They gave me another dose. Then I watched the nurse give me 100mg of solu-cortef. 15 minutes later I was moved to a regular room. That’s when I realized there was a problem. The IV pain meds had worn off already. My pain was uncontrolled. I felt nauseous, but the nurse would not give me any oral pain medication until I ate something. I had a couple spoonfuls of pudding and felt sick. I was given IV zofran with minimal effect. Still sick. Every IV medication I’d been given seemed to metabolize way too fast. This has always been the case for me, and it’s the main reason I had to switch to the cortisol pump to begin with. 
There’s a familiar and unpleasant feeling I get when my cortisol isn’t sufficient. It’s an uneasy, almost panic feeling where I’m keenly aware that something isn’t right and I’m increasingly desperate to find relief or escape. It’s more like a primal instinct, “Something is wrong, help me!” I’ve unfortunately felt this enough times to realize it was cortisol related. I realized then my pump was still set on the measley 30mg profile. I immediately switched it to the 8mg/hr profile that I had programmed in pre-OP. The problem is it takes a while for pump rates to build your blood cortisol level. For whatever reason my body did not keep those 100mg IV solu-cortef boluses in my system very long. So I had to suffer while my rates caught up. Meanwhile the nurse had given me a couple doses of pain pills, and IV phenergan. Phenergan only helped the nausea for 5 minutes or so, but thankfully it made me extremely sleepy. I was able to sleep through the misery and give my pump some time to do its thing. A few hours later the nurse came in to check on me, by then the pain meds were working and my pump was kicking butt. I was still pretty knocked out from the phenergan, but I felt well enough to get dressed and go home. My nausea was gone and my appetite had returned. Yay for proper steroid dosing!


Friends, I can’t tell you enough how much sufficient steroid dosing will make or break a situation. Especially a high stakes situation like a surgery. It’s amazing how fast I went from utter misery in the hospital, to eating a sandwich at home. Steroids ya’ll! They’re a big deal! I stepped down to my 84mg/daily “sick” basal profile and kept it there until late evening. Note: your ability to lower your stress dose will be a case by case situation and depends on what type of surgery you had, how long it was and how invasive it was. Pain control is a major factor. Stay on top of your pain medication schedule. Do not let your meds lapse or try to suffer through it. This will increase your body’s cortisol need, hinder your ability to taper your steroid dose, and potentially prolong your recovery. You need sufficient steroid dosing to get pain under control and you need your pain meds to keep your cortisol need under control. They go hand in hand, don’t skimp on one or the other. 


Quick PSA: When you’re running high rates. YOU WILL need to change your inset more often. Pumping during surgery and recovery sounds pretty convenient compared to stress dosing with pills, and it was, but what I did not mention is all the stress that kind of volume puts on an infusion site. My site was leaking by bed time, which I totally expected to happen. This is EVEN MORE true if you run 2:1 dilution ratio in your pump because you are pumping twice the volume than those on 1:1 ratio. So yes, stress dosing and sick dosing with the pump is easier and more effective than pills, but DO NOT NEGLECT YOUR SITE! Don’t wait for it to start leaking either! When you’re ill/recovering your body needs cortisol the most, this is not the time to wait around for a site failure! I’ve changed my site DAILY while recovering from this procedure.


I’ve had 2 previous surgeries as a pumper, but the medical teams for those procedures were not familiar  with, or keen on the idea of pumping during surgery, and I didn’t push them for it. After my experience pumping during this latest procedure, I am going to push for my pump every time. Infection risk is minimal, it’s less than that of the actual surgery itself. The continuous delivery of the pump is ideal for recovery and superior to IV bolusing dosing only, especially since hospitals seem to think bolusing once every 8-12 hours is going to work fine. Its miserable. Continuous delivery is where it’s at! One day they’ll get with the times I hope.


At the time of writing it’s been nearly 48 hours since my surgery. I’m back on my normal profile plus a 200% increase (double dosing). My energy is good and my pain is well controlled as long as I keep up the pain medication schedule. My biggest problem at the moment is remembering not to over do it. I’m tempted to clean house, go on a walk, etc, and I dont feel like resting like I should. Steroid dosing makes a world of difference, and the pump makes this a much smoother experience. Just don’t neglect your infusion site or your pain meds! Happy healing friends!

❤Michelle

UPDATE: Please check out thecortisolpump.com a comprehensive and research based guide to cortisol pumping!

Surviving the Heat with Adrenal Insufficiency

Heat is my nemesis, but it hasn’t always been this way. Actually, I really enjoy summer! My problems with heat started when I had my adrenal glands removed and I became adrenal insufficient. I’ve come to realise that I’m not alone. Most, if not all adrenal insufficient patients struggle with heat intolerance. To further complicate things, we are highly susceptible to dehydration because of hormone deficiencies.

So what is an adrenal insufficient patient like me to do? Stay indoors all summer and let life pass me by? If you know me, you know that’s not my style! I’m too stubborn to give up!

This past week my kids had their first ever scout day camp. I was obligated to attend with them as a walking den leader. I was terrified. So much could go wrong! Me, with my less than dependable health, out in 90 degree weather, all day long? I often get dehydrated even when I’m not in the heat. I get fatigued from just running errands some days. How in the heck am I going to pull this off?

The night before I was panicking. What if I couldn’t handle it? If I had a medical emergency I’d be so embarrassed! If I got dehydrated and fatigued, I’d be letting the other den leaders down, and they wouldn’t understand what was really happening to me. I was crying and even typed out a text to back out of the whole thing– I didn’t hit send though!

The first day of camp I showed up prepared as possible. Shorts, hiking boots, baseball cap, sunscreen, bug spray, TONS of water and my electrolyte drink of choice, coconut water, a liter of it! As prepared as I thought I was, the first day was brutal. I was feeling wiped out from the heat by the time we got to our first activity. Splitting headache from dehydration, despite drinking every bit of that giant bottle of coconut water. I was fatigued and feeling “out of it” my muscles were getting sore, again probably from dehydration. I use a cortisol pump, so I did my typical bolus amount, took an extra dose of fludrocortisone, a salt tablet, and some Advil for the muscle pain and headache. It got a little bit better in about an hour, but I was struggling until dinner time. After the rest and food at dinner, I felt a lot better.

Day two I knew I needed a better strategy. This time I brought a camping chair to sit in so I could rest a little during the instruction times at each activity. I also bought a wagon to carry it and all of the things the campers ask you to carry along the way (I should also add that my right arm is broken at the moment which makes carrying things kind of tough). It was a smart move, but STILL I was dealing with that fatigue and dehydration headache by the first activity! It didn’t seem to matter how much water and coconut water I drank! Again, I bolused, took extra fludrocortisone, salt tablet and Advil. I bounced back just a little bit quicker this time. Day 3 went about the same. What was I doing wrong? Maybe the killer headache and overwhleming fatigue were just unavoidable in this heat?

Well good news, day 4– I figured it out! We arrived at camp just like the previous days, but this time I bolused right there in my car, before I ever stepped foot into the heat. I changed my bolus strategy too. I took my typical bolus amout and DOUBLED it. I utilized the “dual wave” bolus feature on my pump (OmniPod and Tandem call this extended bolus, and Animus calls it combo bolus.) On my medtronic 630g you have to turn on this feature in your settings. Dual wave allows me to split up my bolus. You set a percentage to deliver immediately, and a percentage to be slowly delivered over a time period you chose. I delivered 50% of the amount (which would be my typical bolus) immediately, and had the other 50% delivered over the next hour (which happened to be the heat of the day). I also went ahead and took that extra fludrocortisone, salt tablet and Advil ahead of time. I went the entire day, active, alert, and symptom free! Day 5 was also symptom free!

It turns out the key is being prepared BEFORE you ever step into the heat. Don’t wait until you’re already sweating, don’t wait until you’re feeling wiped out and crappy! It’s going to take you all day, or even days to catch up at that point!

In summary, here’s what I learned:

If you know you’ll be in the heat, bolus (or updose) ahead of time! If you’re only going to be in the heat an hour or less and not physically active, a normal bolus (plus adequate hydration of course) is probably all you need. The important thing is that you do it BEFORE!

If you’re going to be in the heat for several hours, or plan on being physically active (such as yard work or a sport) you will need more steroid than you think. For me, I needed double my typical bolus amount. Splitting it using the dual wave feature was a huge help. I also needed to increase my basal rate signifcantly. I may not have needed to do this if I could have managed the first 3 days better, but by day 3, I was on my “sick” basal profile, and I stayed on that profile for the rest of camp.

HYDRATE! Don’t wait until you’re in the heat to hydrate, don’t wait until you’re thirsty, and don’t think that just water is going to do the job. You need electrolytes and you need to start drinking them HOURS before you go outside. You really can’t start the intense hydrating too early! As I said, my electrolyte drink of choice is coconut water, do what works for you.

Shade is precious! The sun is BRUTAL! Stay in the shade as much as possible. If you get an oppotinty to sit and rest, don’t be too proud to take it! Try to find ways to exert less energy, maybe that means sitting, using a cart or wagon to carry heavy things, or humbling yourself and asking for help (which I did have to do at one point).

Sun protection/bug spray! I hate sunblock. It feels greasy and gross. Bug spray is stinky, yuck! Here’s the thing though– you don’t want to add any additional stressors to your body by getting sunburned or insect bites. On that note– dress appropriately! Dressing for the outdoors is not very stylish, but ou want to dress in a way that you stay cool, and protect yourself from sun, biting insects or itching plants.

It figures that my experience from scout camp basically amounts to “Be Prepared” which also happens to be the boy scout motto!

Stay safe and cool this summer!

“Sick Rates” Yes, You Need Them!

What if I told you that you don’t have to feel like utter crap every time you get sick? What if your illnesses and injuries didn’t force you to miss out on life? What if there was a way to feel better faster?

Anyone with Adrenal Insufficiency knows that an illness or injury, anything causing your body an extra amount of stress will require a “stress dose”. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, that is an increase of your steroid dosage in order for your body to cope with physical or even in some cases, emotional stress. A stress dose can be a one time extra dosage (which in pump speak we call a “bolus”), but most often it entails doubling or tripling your total daily dosage of steroid.

But what if there was a better way?

For any patient using a cortisol pump, doubling or tripling your basal rate is NOT the most effective way to combat the stress of an illness. Professor Peter Hindmarsh, the leading expert in cortisol pump therapy, states in his book that doubling basal rate DOES NOT double your cortisol level (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia: A Comprehensive Guide p.357). Instead he suggests running a different basal program. Ladies and gentleman, you need to have “sick rates”!

What exactly are “sick rates”?

Sick rates are modified delivery rates part of a basal program better designed to accommodate your body’s cortisol needs when you’re ill, (or injured, or grieving, etc.).

Basically, when a person is sick, the pattern in which the body produces cortisol changes. Rather than the typical high peak in the morning declining throughout the day to a very low cortisol level at midnight, cortisol is needed in a more consistent elevation. Cortisol levels are higher and more “flat” in appearance if you were to draw them on a graph.

This change in distribution is key. You don’t even necessarily need to double or triple the amount of milligrams, having this more consistent delivery pattern when your body needs it makes a world of difference.

So what do sick rates look like? How do I program them?

The main difference you’ll notice in my example is that evening and night rates are much higher than you’d find with typical circadian rhythm. This is on purpose, and its the most crucial part of the program. Don’t cut these evening rates down and expect it to be effective. That’s the whole point of the “sick” profile.

Full disclosure: I did not design this delivery profile. For the sake of privacy, I will not name the person who did, however I will say that this person is a medical provider with many years of first hand experience with adrenal insufficiency, and management of cortisol pump patients.

You might have some questions…

Only 4 time blocks?- Yes. You don’t need a complicated delivery profile for illness. You want it to be elevated, consistent, and “flat”.

Isn’t 84mgs kind of high?- Maybe. It would depend on your normal daily dosage and exactly how sick you are. As a sick day profile, 84mgs is a good amount for someone who takes 30-40mgs on a typical day. Keep in mind this is for when you’re experiencing significant illness or injury. I’ve also used this profile to cope with the emotional stress of the sudden loss of a loved one. This is not a profile for sniffles. The beauty of this basal profile is that you can switch to it and set a temporary basal increase or decrease to suit your level of “sick”. Have a cold? You can set a temp decrease. Recovering from a major illness or surgery? You can set a temp increase.

This can be template for you to explore alternative basal profiles. For example, I have a profile that is a steady 6mg/hr for 24hrs. This is what I used to wean down from IV steroids post surgery. From there I made a profile with 2 time blocks, 6mg/hr for 12hrs and 4mg/hr for 12hrs as a step down toward “sick rates”. My point is, basal profiles should be flexible to suit your body’s needs in a given situation. Just as a non adrenal insufficient person’s cortisol production is not set in stone, neither should our basal rates.

Don’t wait until you’re sick to program a sick basal profile! You won’t be clear minded enough to design a totally new profile. Just plug this into your pump now and save it. When you do need it, you can just switch over…no hassle, no worries!

What if I don’t use a cortisol pump?

If you’re not yet using a cortisol pump, you can still use this principle in your stress dosing strategy. This can be accomplished in one of 2 ways. You can either dose your hydrocortisone MUCH more frequently (which can be difficult if you’re feeling poorly), or you can use a longer acting steroid such a Prednisone or dexamethisone to give that more consistent elevation.

What I hope you take away from this more than any cookie cutter basal profile, is that you begin to look at your body’s cortisol need as an ever changing and fluctuating thing rather than how we typically view set doses of medication. Look at your basal programs and dosing schedules logically and creatively.

A cortisol pump is nothing more than a tool. The more skilled you are at using this tool, the better you will manage your Adrenal Insufficiency.

Happy pumping friends!

❤️ Michelle

For more information about sick dosing please check out thecortisolpump.com a comprehensive and research based guide to cortisol pumping!

What does “low” feel like?

*Disclaimer: This post describes how I feel during a cortisol low. It is intended to show how low cortisol hijacks the brain. This took place over the span of about 6 hours due to accumulated physical and emotional stressors. This was not an adrenal crisis. Not even close. I believe in honesty and transparency so I did not edit my original thoughts from that state. I wanted to call attention to the profound mental and emotional effects of low cortisol, and I don’t want others with adrenal insufficiency to feel alone or ashamed when they feel this way. Its biology my friends.*

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THE LOW ROLLS IN

4pm
I’m being pulled in a million different directions. I’m completely overwhelmed. I’m frazzled, inadequate. The confusion sets in. I’m not thinking straight, I can’t make decisions. My mentality grows increasingly negative. Everything is stupid, life is un fucking fair. I can’t stand to be in my own head. I’m either combative or weepy and sometimes flying wildly from one to the other.

6pm
I become increasingly sensitive to light and sound. Even dim light is hurting my eyes, every noise is like it’s attacking my ears. I cannot take care of myself by this point. I cannot see that I am in need of things like food, water, and medicine. I don’t even want to take the medicine, and become agitated when asked if I need more meds. I feel weak. My head is hurting. I just want the weight of the world off my shoulders for a while. I can’t help everyone, I can’t fix everything. Doubt strikes. What am I even doing? What makes me think I know anything about anything? I feel isolated. I feel like I need to reach out to someone, but no one can help me. Why would I even expect them to? They’ve heard enough of my problems.

9pm
I finally admit I might need to dose. My husband doesn’t let me choose the dosage, and hands me a pill. I want to tell him I’m sick of meds, I want to tell him that’s too much (it isn’t though,) and that it’s going to take forever to kick in, but I don’t have the energy to protest. I cry to him about all the things weighing on me. He says “Don’t worry about that. We could be raptured in 5 minutes for all we know.”

Damn, and we don’t even have any ice cream.

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*I started to come out of the low about an hour later. It took a generous stress dose and some environmental modifications like turning the lights off and reducing noise. This situation would have continued to deteriorate had I not given myself more cortisol, and eventually, probably in the middle of the night, I would have had to inject or go to the hospital. I chose to medicate before it reached that extreme, as I believe that is safest for my body.

Low cortisol and the results are not a personal failing, it is not something you are in control of. This is biology. Your brain is not getting the increased amount of oxygen and glucose it needs during stress because you don’t have the cortisol that would make that happen.

Keep calm and take care my friends 🙂

❤ Michelle

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