The hormone 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-OH progesterone) is produced by the adrenal glands. These are two small glands. One is located on top of each kidney. Along with special enzymes, or proteins, 17-OH progesterone is converted to a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is constantly released in varying amounts, but high levels are released during times of physical or emotional stress. Cortisol is also important in regulating metabolism and the immune system.
A cortisol deficiency can occur in people who lack the appropriate enzymes, which can lead to a buildup of 17-OH progesterone in the blood. High levels of 17-OH progesterone can indicate a condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). CAH is a glandular disorder that results in the adrenal glands being unable to create sufficient cortisol, and it may increase the production of male sex hormones called androgens.
CAH can occur in both boys and girls. Young children with CAH may have ambiguous genitalia, pubic hair, or acne. The condition can also develop later in life in less obvious ways. Some common symptoms include clearly defined muscle tone, increased body hair, and a deeper voice.
In infants, CAH can sometimes cause dehydration or shock, both of which are very serious conditions. As a result, the 17-OH progesterone test should be part of every newborn’s initial medical examination. The test is routinely given to newborns in the United States to screen for CAH.
A doctor will usually order a 17-OH progesterone test for a young child, teenager, or adult who displays some of the classic symptoms of CAH. The sooner a person with CAH is diagnosed and treated, the less likely they are to experience complications.