Background: In suspected hypercortisolism, the 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test is the usual initial test. In fertile women, false-positive test results are often due to the use of oral contraceptives. By elevating cortisol-binding globulin these contraceptives increase the total serum cortisol concentration. The aim of this study was to assess the duration and degree of influence of oral contraceptives on the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test.
Methods: Thirteen healthy female volunteers without
symptoms or signs of overt hypercortisolism, aged 18-55 years, who were using oral contraceptives, underwent a 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test. Tests were repeated one and six weeks after withdrawal of the contraceptive. In addition, 24-hour urinary cortisol excretion and late-night salivary cortisol were measured.
Results: Of the 13 volunteers (62%) eight had inadequate suppression of cortisol by 1 mg dexamethasone while using oral contraceptives. One week after the contraceptive was withdrawn, the number of false-positive results significantly decreased to 1 (8%, p < 0.02). Six weeks after discontinuation, all tests were normal. None of the 24-hour urinary cortisol samples and just one late-night salivary cortisol level was elevated.
Conclusion: The results of the 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test performed one week after cessation of oral contraceptives are accurate in almost all subjects. In case of inadequate suppression, a second test may be performed after six weeks. In this manner the 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test can reliably be done at the end of a seven-day break from contraceptive use in nearly all cases.