Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)

Definition - What does Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) mean?

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) regulates levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the so-called 'stress hormone' that activates the body's 'fight or flight' response, with a number of effects including lowering immune function, increasing the metabolism of food molecules, increasing blood sugar, and increasing feelings of psychological stress. Levels of both of these hormones vary throughout the day and even moment to moment, but usually when ACTH levels are high, cortisol levels are low, and vice-versa. Abnormal levels of ACTH have been linked to infertility, often via Cushing's Syndrome.

FertilitySmarts explains Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)

Chronically high cortisol levels can lead to Cushing's Syndrome. There are many symptoms involved in this syndrome, including high blood pressure, obesity in the abdomen and face but not the limbs, skin and bones that are fragile, increased body hair, and missing periods in women. Cushing's syndrome can be caused by taking medications such as prednisone over a long period of time, because the medication mimics cortisol; or the syndrome can be caused by an endocrine tumor. Adrenal tumors can cause the cortisol levels to be high while the ACTH levels are low (because the tumor causes the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol, lowering the ACTH levels). Pituitary tumors are more common than adrenal tumors in Cushing's Syndrome. Pituitary tumors can cause the pituitary gland to continue to secrete ACTH without regard to the level of cortisol, resulting in high ACTH levels and high cortisol levels. Once the cause of Cushing's Syndrome is diagnosed, it is usually curable. Expert knowledge is required to interpret tests for cortisol and ACTH levels.

Cushing's Syndrome is associated with infertility in both men and women, although some people with Cushing's Syndrome do not experience fertility problems. Three out of four people diagnosed with Cushing's Syndrome are women. The stress associated with the syndrome causes infertility in women by causing missing or irregular periods and miscarriages. In men, Cushing's Syndrome can cause decreased production of sperm and impotence.

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