Test Catalog

Test ID: CCFR    
Cortisol/Cortisone, Free, Random, Urine

Useful For Suggests clinical disorders or settings where the test may be helpful

Investigating suspected Cushing syndrome (hypercortisolism), when a 24-hour collection is prohibitive (ie, pediatric patients).


Assisting in diagnosing acquired or inherited abnormalities of 11-beta-hydroxy steroid dehydrogenase (cortisol to cortisone ratio)


Diagnosis of pseudohyperaldosteronism due to excessive licorice consumption


This test has limited usefulness in the evaluation of adrenal insufficiency.


This test is not useful for evaluation of hypocorticalism.

Clinical Information Discusses physiology, pathophysiology, and general clinical aspects, as they relate to a laboratory test

Cortisol is a steroid hormone synthesized from cholesterol by a multienzyme cascade in the adrenal glands. It is the main glucocorticoid in humans and acts as a gene transcription factor influencing a multitude of cellular responses in virtually all tissues. It plays a critical role in glucose metabolism, maintenance of vascular tone, immune response regulation, and in the body's response to stress. Its production is under hypothalamic-pituitary feedback control.


Only a small percentage of circulating cortisol is biologically active (free), with the majority of cortisol inactive (protein bound). As plasma cortisol values increase, free cortisol (ie, unconjugated cortisol or hydrocortisone) increases and is filtered through the glomerulus. Urinary free cortisol (UFC) correlates well with the concentration of plasma free cortisol. UFC represents excretion of the circulating, biologically active, free cortisol that is responsible for the signs and symptoms of hypercortisolism. UFC is a sensitive test for the various types of adrenocortical dysfunction, particularly hypercortisolism (Cushing syndrome). A measurement of 24-hour UFC excretion by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) is the preferred screening test for Cushing syndrome. LC-MS/MS methodology eliminates analytical interferences including carbamazepine (Tegretol) and synthetic corticosteroids, which can affect immunoassay-based cortisol results.


Cortisone, a downstream metabolite of cortisol, provides an additional variable to assist in the diagnosis of various adrenal disorders, including abnormalities of 11-beta-hydroxy steroid dehydrogenase (11-beta HSD), the enzyme that converts cortisol to cortisone. Deficiency of 11-beta HSD results in a state of mineralocorticoid excess because cortisol (but not cortisone) acts as a mineralocorticoid receptor agonist. Licorice (active component glycyrrhetinic acid) inhibits 11-beta HSD and excess consumption can result in similar changes.

Reference Values Describes reference intervals and additional information for interpretation of test results. May include intervals based on age and sex when appropriate. Intervals are Mayo-derived, unless otherwise designated. If an interpretive report is provided, the reference value field will state this.



0-2 years: 3.0-120 mcg/g creatinine

3-8 years: 2.2-89 mcg/g creatinine

9-12 years: 1.4-56 mcg/g creatinine

13-17 years: 1.0-42 mcg/g creatinine

> or =18 years: 1.0-119 mcg/g creatinine


0-2 years: 3.0-120 mcg/g creatinine

3-8 years: 2.2-89 mcg/g creatinine

9-12 years: 1.4-56 mcg/g creatinine

13-17 years: 1.0-42 mcg/g creatinine

> or =18 years: 0.7-85 mcg/g creatinine



0-2 years: 25-477 mcg/g creatinine

3-8 years: 11-211 mcg/g creatinine

9-12 years: 5.8-109 mcg/g creatinine

13-17 years: 5.4-102 mcg/g creatinine

18-29 years: 5.7-153 mcg/g creatinine

30-39 years: 6.6-176 mcg/g creatinine

40-49 years: 7.6-203 mcg/g creatinine

50-59 years: 8.8-234 mcg/g creatinine

60-69 years: 10-270 mcg/g creatinine

> or =70 years: 12-311 mcg/g creatinine


Use the conversion factors below to convert each analyte from mcg/g creatinine to nmol/mol creatinine:


Conversion factors

Cortisol: mcg/g creatinine x 312=nmol/mol creatinine

Cortisone: mcg/g creatinine x 314=nmol/mol creatinine


Cortisol molecular weight=362.5

Cortisone molecular weight=360.4

Creatinine molecular weight=113.12

Interpretation Provides information to assist in interpretation of the test results

Most patients with Cushing syndrome have increased urinary excretion of cortisol and/or cortisone. Further studies, including suppression or stimulation tests, measurement of serum corticotrophin concentrations, and imaging are usually necessary to confirm the diagnosis and determine the etiology.


Values in the normal range may occur in patients with mild Cushing syndrome or with periodic hormonogenesis. In these cases, continuing follow-up and repeat testing are necessary to confirm the diagnosis.


Patients with Cushing syndrome due to intake of synthetic glucocorticoids should have both suppressed cortisol and cortisone. In these circumstances a synthetic glucocorticoid screen might be ordered (SGSU / Synthetic Glucocorticoid Screen, Random, Urine).


Suppressed cortisol and cortisone values may also be observed in primary adrenal insufficiency and hypopituitarism. However, random urine specimens are not useful for evaluation of hypocorticalism.


Patients with 11-beta HSD deficiency may have cortisone to cortisol ratios less than 1, whereas a ratio of 2 or 3:1 is seen in normal patients. Excessive licorice consumption and use of carbenoxolone, a synthetic derivative of glycyrrhizinic acid used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease, also may suppress the ratio to less than 1.

Cautions Discusses conditions that may cause diagnostic confusion, including improper specimen collection and handling, inappropriate test selection, and interfering substances

Random urine cortisol results are less reliable than results obtained from properly collected and complete 24-hour urine specimens, which are not affected by diurnal variations in cortisol levels.


Acute stress (including hospitalization and surgery), alcoholism, depression, and many drugs (eg, exogenous cortisone, anticonvulsants) can obliterate normal diurnal variation, affect response to suppression/stimulation tests, and increase baseline levels.


Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry methodology eliminates analytical interferences including carbamazepine (Tegretol) and synthetic corticosteroids.


Random urine specimens may yield falsely elevated values when patients have a high urinary output.


Renal disease (decreased clearance) may cause falsely low values.


Values may be elevated to twice normal in pregnancy.


Patients with exogenous Cushing syndrome caused by ingestion of hydrocortisone will not have suppressed cortisol and cortisone values.


When N-acetylcysteine is administered at levels sufficient to act as an antidote for the treatment of acetaminophen overdose, it may lead to falsely decreased creatinine results.

Supportive Data

Multiple calibration curves for urinary cortisol and cortisone exhibited consistent linearity and reproducibility in the range of 7 to 828 nmol/L (0.25-30 mcg/dL). Inter-assay coefficients of variation were 7.3% to 16% for mean concentrations of 6 to 726 nmol/L (0.2-26.3 mcg/dL) for cortisol and cortisone. The detection limit was 6 nmol/L (0.2 mcg/dL). Recovery of cortisol and cortisone added to urine was 97% to 123%. The regression equation for the liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) (y) and high performance liquid chromatography (x) method for cortisol was: y = 1.11x + 0.03 mcg cortisol/24 h (r(2) = 0.992; n = 99). The regression equation for the LC-MS/MS (y) and immunoassay (x) methods for cortisol was: y = 0.66x - 12.1 mcg cortisol/24 h (r(2) = 0.67; n = 99).(1)

Clinical Reference Recommendations for in-depth reading of a clinical nature

1. Taylor RL, Machacek D, Singh RJ: Validation of a high-throughput liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry method for urinary cortisol and cortisone. Clin Chem. 2002;48:1511-1519

2. Findling JW, Raff H: Diagnosis and differential diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2001;30:729-747

3. Boscaro M, Barzon L, Fallo F, Sonino N: Cushing's syndrome. Lancet. 2001;357:783-791

4. Suzuki S, Minamidate T, Shiga A, et al. Steroid metabolites for diagnosing and predicting clinicopathological features in cortisol-producing adrenocortical carcinoma. BMC Endocr Disord. 2020;20(1):173. doi: 10.1186/s12902-020-00652-y