Dexamethasone Suppression Test

Explore our Dexamethasone Suppression Test to detect any cortisol abnormalities, and enhance patient health with increased accuracy.

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Written by
Joshua Napilay
Joshua Napilay
Reviewed by
Joshua Napilay

What is the Dexamethasone Suppression Test?

The Dexamethasone Suppression Test is a diagnostic procedure used to measure the adrenal glands' response to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and is performed when overproduction of cortisol is suspected. The test can help differentiate healthy individuals from those who produce excessive cortisol and determine if the abnormality is in the pituitary gland, which may indicate Cushing's Disease.

The test involves administering a low dose of dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid, to suppress the production of cortisol. Cortisol levels should decrease in response to the administration of dexamethasone. There are two types of tests: the low-dose and high-dose tests, which can be performed overnight or over a standard 3-day period.

The purpose of the test is to:

  • Evaluate endogenous Cushing syndrome (CS) by assessing for the lack of suppression of cortisol secretion.
  • Determine if the abnormality is in the pituitary gland, which may indicate Cushing's Disease.
  • Differentiate healthy individuals from those who produce excessive cortisol.

The test is considered accurate as long as the dexamethasone level in the blood is measured in the morning along with the cortisol level, and the dexamethasone level should be higher than 200 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) or 4.5 nanomoles.

Downloadable Dexamethasone Suppression Test PDF

Access and download our free Dexamethasone Suppression Test PDF here

When is the Dexamethasone Suppression Test recommended?

The Dexamethasone Suppression Test is recommended when there is a suspicion of overproduction of cortisol, such as in the case of Cushing's syndrome or Cushing's disease. It is used to evaluate endogenous Cushing syndrome by assessing the lack of suppression of cortisol secretion and to differentiate healthy individuals from those who produce excessive cortisol.

The test is performed by administering dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid, and measuring the adrenal glands' response to ACTH. There are two types of test: the low-dose test and the high-dose test, which can be performed overnight or over a standard 3-day period. The test helps determine the cause of an excess of cortisol in the body and can aid in diagnosing specific conditions related to cortisol production.

Dexamethasone Suppression Test example (sample)

To access a valuable resource for understanding and implementing the test, we have created a comprehensive template as an illustrative example. This free Dexamethasone Suppression Test example provides a practical framework for conducting the test, interpreting results, and devising follow-up care plans.

Whether you are a healthcare professional seeking a practical reference or an individual interested in learning more about the test, this resource is designed to enhance your understanding and facilitate practical application.

Download this free example now to access a valuable tool that can contribute to improved patient care and diagnostic accuracy.

Download this free Dexamethasone Suppression Test example here 

Dexamethasone Suppression Test example

How should patients prepare for the Dexamethasone Suppression Test?

Patients should prepare for the Dexamethasone Suppression Test by following these guidelines:

  • Continue taking usual medications: Patients can eat, drink normally, and take all their regular remedies before the test.
  • Stop estrogen-containing medications: Estrogen-containing medications, including the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy, should be stopped for six weeks before measuring serum cortisol levels.
  • Follow the test instructions carefully: The most common cause of an abnormal test result is when instructions are not followed. Patients should read and follow the instructions provided by their healthcare provider.
  • Collect urine samples (if applicable): For the standard low-dose method, patients may need to collect urine samples for 24-hour periods over three days to measure cortisol levels.

On the day of the test, patients should expect the following:

  • Dexamethasone administration: Patients will receive dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid, which can be administered orally or through an IV.
  • Blood draw: A healthcare provider will draw a blood sample to measure cortisol levels.
  • Urine collection (if applicable): Patients may need a urine sample for free cortisol measurement for the standard low-dose method.

Patients must follow their healthcare provider's instructions and notify them if they have any concerns or questions about the test.

Dexamethasone Suppression Test procedure

The overnight dexamethasone suppression test (DST) is a diagnostic procedure used for assessing cortisol suppression, aiding in the differential diagnosis of conditions such as Cushing's disease. It involves administering a low dose of dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid, to observe cortisol response. Two variations exist: the late-night salivary cortisol test and the urinary-free cortisol test, designed to evaluate cortisol levels.

Procedure for overnight Dexamethasone Suppression Test

Late-night salivary cortisol

  1. Baseline Measurement: Obtain a baseline cortisol measurement in the morning.
  2. Dexamethasone administration: Administer 1 mg of dexamethasone at 11 p.m.
  3. Post-dexamethasone measurement: Draw blood at 8 a.m. for cortisol level assessment.

Urinary free cortisol (3-day method)

  1. Baseline measurement: Collect urine over three days for cortisol measurement.
  2. Dexamethasone administration: Administer 1 mg of dexamethasone at 11 p.m.
  3. Post-dexamethasone measurement: Continue urine collection, with cortisol levels assessed over the three days.

For the high-dose test, the procedure is similar, but with an elevated dexamethasone dose (8 mg) administered overnight. Additional measurements are taken to evaluate cortisol suppression, including plasma cortisol and late-night salivary cortisol.

Other similar tests

Various alternative and complementary tests to the Dexamethasone Suppression Test (DST) are available to assess adrenal cortex function, ACTH secretion, and serum cortisol levels and diagnose conditions like Cushing's syndrome. These include:

  • 24-hour urinary free cortisol test: This measures the quantity of cortisol excreted in urine over 24 hours, aiding in diagnosing Cushing's syndrome.
  • Late-night salivary cortisol test: This assesses cortisol levels in saliva during nighttime, contributing to the diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome.
  • ACTH stimulation test: Evaluates adrenal gland response to ACTH, aiding in diagnosing adrenal insufficiency and other cortisol-related conditions.
  • CRH stimulation test: Assesses the pituitary gland's response to CRH, assisting in diagnosing conditions related to cortisol production, including Cushing's syndrome.
  • Imaging tests: Techniques such as CT scans and MRI are employed to identify the cause of excessive cortisol production, such as tumors in the adrenal or pituitary glands.

When selecting a test, it is crucial to consider the individual patient's clinical condition and the healthcare provider's judgment. While the test is commonly used, it may not suit all patients.

Factors such as adrenal tumors, corticosteroid-binding globulin, and normal cortisol suppression levels need to be taken into account, and other tests like the overnight suppression test and blood tests measuring plasma cortisol levels should be considered based on the patient's unique circumstances.

Additionally, assessing too much cortisol, acth secretion, and the potential for pseudo-Cushing's syndrome are integral components of an effective diagnostic approach.

Follow-up care and next steps

After undergoing the Dexamethasone Suppression Test (DST), post-test care is contingent on the patient's clinical condition and results. The following measures may be recommended:

  • Repeat testing: Should the initial results prove abnormal or inconclusive, healthcare providers may advise additional testing to validate the diagnosis and pinpoint the specific cause of the abnormality.
  • Imaging studies: Depending on the patient's clinical profile, healthcare providers may suggest imaging tests such as CT scans or MRI to identify the source of elevated cortisol production, such as tumors in the adrenal or pituitary glands.
  • Endocrine evaluation: A thorough evaluation of the endocrine system may be warranted for patients with a history of other endocrine disorders.
  • Monitoring medication side effects: If the patient is on medications that could influence test results, healthcare providers may closely monitor for potential side effects and adjust the medication regimen accordingly.
  • Titrating down or discontinuing steroid therapy: In cases where patients are on high doses of steroids, healthcare providers may gradually reduce the dosage or discontinue therapy based on the patient's clinical condition and treatment response

Why use Carepatron as your Dexamethasone Suppression Test app?

Discover the advantages of using Carepatron as your dedicated Dexamethasone Suppression Test app. The app provides comprehensive procedure guidance, ensuring users are adeptly led through each test step, guaranteeing accurate execution.

We go a step further by sending timely reminder alerts and assisting users in adhering to their test schedule. These alerts cover crucial timings for dexamethasone administration and blood sample collection, making the testing process smoother and more efficient.

The app facilitates efficient result tracking, allowing users to monitor and manage test results seamlessly. Additionally, our app enables easy sharing of results with healthcare providers for thorough evaluation and interpretation.

Education is a key component of the Carepatron experience, as the app offers valuable resources on the test. Users gain in-depth insights into the test's applications, uses, and associated risks, empowering them with relevant information.

Carepatron serves as a comprehensive platform, streamlining the test process and supporting users in managing their healthcare journey conveniently and confidently.

Clinical documentation software benefit
What is the Dexamethasone Suppression Test for testosterone?
What is the Dexamethasone Suppression Test for testosterone?

Commonly asked questions

What is the Dexamethasone Suppression Test for testosterone?

This test can be used to determine the source of significantly elevated androgens. After drawing baseline DHEAS, testosterone, and cortisol, the patient is given eight doses of 0.5 mg of dexamethasone over 48 hours, and these tests are redrawn.

Is the Dexamethasone Suppression Test used to diagnose depression?

This test was introduced as a laboratory marker, specifically identifying endogenously depressed individuals. This survey illustrates the present dispute about the DST's diagnostic confidence and clinical value and related biochemical aspects in a psychiatric population.

What is Dexamethasone Suppression Test in obesity?

It is suspected that obesity, the most common manifestation of Cushing's syndrome, reduces the specificity of the 1 mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test (DST), making it a less useful screening tool in this population.

When is Dexamethasone Suppression Test positive?

A serum cortisol level greater than 1.7 μg/dL after the single dose or the multiple dose protocol dexamethasone is considered a positive test. This reflex profile then confirms adequate dexamethasone drug level with a dexamethasone measurement.

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