An experimental model that produces adrenal cortical hemorrhage with endotoxin has been described. When stimulated by thorotrast, endotoxin, or its tropic hormone (ACTH), the adrenal cortex is susceptible to the development of a hemorrhagic reaction during endotoxemia. The hemorrhagic reaction resembles that described in the Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome.
A pathophysiologic mechanism for the occurrence of adrenal hemorrhage occurring during acute sepsis is presented. Increased metabolic activity associated with the production of corticosteroids seems to make the adrenal cortex susceptible to endotoxin-induced hemorrhage. Adrenal hemorrhage observed during sepsis, as in the Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome, may be attributable to endotoxemia occurring during or shortly after stimulation of the adrenal cortex by infection.
Significant differences between adrenal cortical hemorrhage and the Shwartzman phenomenon are described.