What Is A Normal Cortisol Level: Understanding Your Balance

Discover the importance of cortisol, the "stress hormone," in maintaining our health. What is a normal cortisol level? Find out here...
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When it comes to managing our health, a crucial aspect we often overlook is the delicate balance our bodies constantly maintain. A testament to this intricate system is cortisol – a steroid hormone that plays a pivotal role in a variety of our body’s processes. Let’s take a journey into the realm of this vital hormone and understand: what is a normal cortisol level? 12

With a simple blood test, we can get a window into our overall health, and how well we are managing stress. Today, we aim to answer some of the burning questions you may have about your cortisol levels, how they can affect your body, and what you can do about it. Let’s dive right in!

What Is Cortisol and Its Role in the Body?

Let’s start by clarifying one thing: cortisol is a bit of a superstar in the world of hormones. Also known as a glucocorticoid, cortisol is a steroid hormone primarily produced by the adrenal glands. These small glands, located on top of each kidney, are responsible for a whole slew of functions in the body.

Now, onto the main act – cortisol production. Here’s where our brain comes into play, specifically a tiny structure known as the pituitary gland. Acting as the master of hormone regulation, the pituitary gland sends a signal (think of it as a text message) in the form of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). This signal tells the adrenal glands to produce and release cortisol into the bloodstream. This process happens throughout the day, peaking in the morning, dipping during the day, and reaching its lowest level at night.

Now, cortisol isn’t just a one-trick pony. Its main function is to help the body respond to stress. But, it’s also crucial in regulating our blood sugar levels, maintaining our blood pressure, reducing inflammation, aiding memory formulation, and even controlling our body’s salt and water balance. Its contribution to fetal development during pregnancy is another feather in its cap!

Normal Cortisol Levels: Exploring the Optimal Range

When you take a cortisol blood test, your healthcare provider is looking for a specific normal range. This range can vary depending on the time of day the blood is drawn, given the hormone’s diurnal rhythm. Here are some normal values for reference:

  • Early morning (6-8 AM): 10-20 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL)
  • Late afternoon (around 4 PM): 3-10 µg/dL
  • Midnight: Less than 5 µg/dL

These numbers can vary slightly depending on the lab performing the test. Always discuss your test results with your healthcare provider to understand their specific reference range.

Factors Affecting Cortisol Levels: From Morning to Evening

Our cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day due to various factors. The circadian rhythm of our bodies is the primary factor. It’s highest in the early morning and lowest at night. This pattern, called a diurnal rhythm, prepares our bodies for the day ahead and sleep, respectively.

What is a normal cortisol level: understanding your balance

Stress is another significant player here – physical, emotional, or illness-related. During these situations, your body goes into overdrive and produces more cortisol. Imagine the hormone as a built-in alarm system, prepping your body for a fight, flight, or freeze response.

Low Cortisol Levels: Causes, Symptoms, and Health Implications

Low cortisol levels, a condition known as adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease, can be caused by problems with the adrenal gland or the pituitary gland. Symptoms of this condition may include fatigue, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Severe cases may lead to an adrenal crisis, a potentially life-threatening situation with severe abdominal pain, low blood pressure, and loss of consciousness.

Don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare service if you suspect low cortisol levels. A simple cortisol blood test can provide valuable information and can help diagnose this condition.

High Cortisol Levels: Effects, Risks, and Management Strategies

High cortisol levels, on the other hand, can be an indicator of conditions such as Cushing’s syndrome. Prolonged high cortisol levels can lead to a slew of health problems, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and difficulties with memory and concentration. It’s a signal that your body’s stress-response system is stuck in the “on” position – which is not a good thing.

If you suspect that you may have high cortisol levels, discuss this with your healthcare provider. Treatment can vary, ranging from medication and radiation to surgery, depending on the underlying cause.

Key Takeaways

  1. Cortisol, also known as the ‘stress hormone,’ is a crucial hormone that helps the body respond to stress and regulates various bodily functions.
  2. Normal cortisol levels vary throughout the day, usually highest in the early morning and lowest at night.
  3. Conditions like Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome are associated with low and high cortisol levels, respectively.
  4. Regular blood tests can help monitor cortisol levels and diagnose conditions related to low or high cortisol.
  5. Leading a balanced lifestyle, incorporating regular exercise, a nutritious diet, and stress management strategies can help maintain normal cortisol levels and overall health.


Understanding cortisol and its function in your body is the first step toward achieving a healthy balance. If you’re concerned about your cortisol levels, a simple blood test can provide a lot of information. It’s also crucial to maintain a balanced lifestyle, including regular exercise, a healthy diet, and effective stress management strategies, to keep your cortisol levels in check.

Should you have any questions or concerns about your health, your healthcare provider should always be your first point of contact.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered a low cortisol level?

A low cortisol level refers to a measurement of cortisol in the blood that falls below the normal range. Typically, the normal range for cortisol levels in the morning is between 5 to 25 mcg/dL or 140 to 690 nmol/L. However, specific ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. When cortisol levels are too low, it can indicate a condition called adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease. Symptoms of low cortisol levels may include fatigue, weakness, weight loss, low blood pressure, and mood changes. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management if you suspect low cortisol levels.

Is 28 a high cortisol level?

A cortisol level of 28 mcg/dL would be considered within the normal range. The normal range for cortisol levels in the morning is typically between 5 to 25 mcg/dL or 140 to 690 nmol/L. Cortisol levels fluctuate throughout the day, with higher levels in the morning and lower levels in the evening. However, it’s essential to note that cortisol reference ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. If you have concerns about your cortisol levels or suspect high cortisol levels, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and interpretation of your results.

What is a high cortisol level?

A high cortisol level refers to a measurement of cortisol in the blood that exceeds the normal range. The normal range for cortisol levels in the morning is typically between 5 to 25 mcg/dL or 140 to 690 nmol/L. Elevated cortisol levels can be indicative of various conditions, including Cushing’s syndrome, chronic stress, certain medications, or tumors in the adrenal glands or pituitary gland. Symptoms of high cortisol levels may include weight gain, increased appetite, high blood pressure, mood swings, muscle weakness, and changes in the appearance of the body, such as thinning skin and easy bruising. If you suspect high cortisol levels, it is important to seek medical advice for proper evaluation and management.

What is an elevated cortisol level?

An elevated cortisol level refers to a measurement of cortisol in the blood that is higher than the normal range. The normal range for cortisol levels in the morning is typically between 5 to 25 mcg/dL or 140 to 690 nmol/L. Elevated cortisol levels can occur due to various factors, including chronic stress, Cushing’s syndrome, adrenal tumors, or certain medications. When cortisol levels are consistently elevated, it can have adverse effects on the body, such as weight gain, high blood pressure, impaired immune function, and mood changes. If you suspect elevated cortisol levels, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation, diagnosis, and appropriate treatment options.

What is the abbreviation for cortisol on a blood test?

The abbreviation for cortisol on a blood test is typically displayed as “CORT” or “C.” When you receive the results of a blood test measuring cortisol levels, you may notice this abbreviation used to indicate the cortisol hormone. The blood test for cortisol is an important diagnostic tool to assess the functioning of the adrenal glands and evaluate cortisol levels in the body. It helps healthcare professionals identify any abnormalities or imbalances in cortisol production, which can be crucial for diagnosing conditions related to cortisol regulation and managing overall health.


  1. Cortisol (Blood) – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center[]
  2. Cortisol Test: What It Is, Types, Purpose & Results (clevelandclinic.org)[]
Alex Reijnierse
Alex Reijnierse

Alex Reijnierse is a stress management expert with over a decade of experience in helping individuals effectively manage and reduce stress. He holds a Master of Science (MSc) and has a background in high-pressure environments, which has given him firsthand experience in dealing with chronic stress.