Introduction: A severe burn causes increased levels of urine cortisol and catecholamines. However, little is known about the magnitude of this increase or how and when the levels return to normal. The purpose of this study was to determine in a large clinical prospective trial the acute and long-term pattern of urine cortisol and catecholamine expression in severely burned children.
Methods: Pediatric patients with burns greater than 40% total body surface area (TBSA), admitted to our unit over a 6-yr period, were included into the study. Clinical data including length of stay, number of operations, and duration and number of infections were determined. Patients had regular 24-h urine collections during their acute admission and reconstructive periods. Urine collections were analyzed for cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Each urine cortisol was compared with age-adjusted reference ranges. Ninety-five percent confidence intervals and ANOVA analysis were used where appropriate.
Results: Two hundred twelve patients were included in the study (75 females and 137 males), with a mean ± sem TBSA of 58 ± 1% (third-degree 45 ± 2%) and mean age of 9 ± 0.4 yr. Urinary cortisol levels were significantly increased (3- to 5-fold) up to 100 d after the burn and then approached normal levels (P < 0.05). The rise in urine cortisol was significantly higher in male than female patients (P < 0.05). Early hypercortisolemia was associated with increased duration of severe infection (P < 0.05). Persistent hypercortisolemia was associated with increases in both infection rates and duration of severe infection (P < 0.05). Urinary catecholamines showed a significant increase at 11–20 d after the burn (P < 0.05). Urinary norepinephrine levels were significantly increased up to 20 d and then returned to normal (P < 0.05).
Conclusions: Urinary levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine are significantly increased after a major burn. Early hypercortisolemia is associated with increased duration of severe infection. Persistent hypercortisolemia is associated with increases in both infection rates and duration of severe infection.