Not Found

Find information on medical topics, symptoms, drugs, procedures, news and more, written for the health care professional.

Polyglandular Deficiency Syndromes

(Autoimmune Polyglandular Syndromes; Polyendocrine Deficiency Syndromes)

By Jennifer M. Barker, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, Children's Hospital Colorado, Division of Pediatric Endocrinology

Click here for
Patient Education

Polyglandular deficiency syndromes (PDS) are characterized by sequential or simultaneous deficiencies in the function of several endocrine glands that have a common cause. Etiology is most often autoimmune. Categorization depends on the combination of deficiencies, which fall within 1 of 3 types. Diagnosis requires measurement of hormone levels and autoantibodies against affected endocrine glands. Treatment includes replacement of missing or deficient hormones and sometimes immunosuppressants.


The etiology is most often autoimmune. Risk factors for development of autoimmunity include

  • Genetic factors

  • Environmental triggers

Genetic factors include the AIRE gene mutation, which is causative of type 1, and certain HLA subtypes, which are important in the development of types 2 and 3. Environmental triggers include viral infections, dietary factors, and other as yet unknown exposures.


The underlying autoimmune reaction involves autoantibodies against endocrine tissues, cell-mediated autoimmunity, or both and leads to inflammation, lymphocytic infiltration, and partial or complete gland destruction. More than one endocrine gland is involved, although clinical manifestations are not always simultaneous. The autoimmune reaction and associated immune system dysfunction can also damage nonendocrine tissues.


Three patterns of autoimmune failure have been described in polyglandular deficiency syndrome (see Table: Characteristics of Types 1, 2, and 3 Polyglandular Deficiency Syndromes), which likely reflect different autoimmune abnormalities. Some experts combine type 2 and type 3 into a single group.

Type 1 polyglandular deficiency

Type 1 polyglandular deficiency usually begins in childhood. It is defined by the presence of ≥ 2 of the following:

Candidiasis is usually the initial clinical manifestation, most often occurring in patients < 5 yr. Hypoparathyroidism occurs next, usually in patients < 10 yr. Lastly, adrenal insufficiency occurs in patients < 15 yr. Accompanying endocrine and nonendocrine disorders (see Table: Characteristics of Types 1, 2, and 3 Polyglandular Deficiency Syndromes) continue to appear at least until patients are about age 40.

Type 2 polyglandular deficiency (Schmidt syndrome)

Type 2 polyglandular deficiency usually occurs in adults; peak incidence is age 30. It occurs 3 times more often in women. It typically manifests with the following:

More rare features may also be present (see Table: Characteristics of Types 1, 2, and 3 Polyglandular Deficiency Syndromes).

Type 3 polyglandular deficiency

Type 3 is glandular failure that usually occurs in adults, particularly middle-aged women. It is characterized by

Type 3 does not involve the adrenal cortex.

Characteristics of Types 1, 2, and 3 Polyglandular Deficiency Syndromes


Type 1

Type 2

Type 3


Age at onset

Childhood (3–5 yr)

Adulthood (peak 30 yr)

Adulthood (particularly middle-aged women)






HLA types

May influence the development of specific components of the disorder

Primarily, B8, DW3, DR3, DR4

Others in specific disorders

DR3, DR4


Autosomal recessive mutation of the AIRE gene



Glands affected










Less common






Adrenal insufficiency (Addison disease)



Not seen


Not seen



Incidence uncertain


Chronic active hepatitis


Not seen



Not seen





Gonadal failure

In men, 15–25%

In women, 60%




Not seen

Not seen


Not seen


Not seen

Incidence uncertain



< 1%


Not seen

Not seen


Thyroid disorders







*Associated; incidence uncertain.

Usually chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis but also includes Graves disease.

N/A = data not available.

Data from Husebye ES, Perheentupa J, Rautemaa R, Kampe O: Clinical manifestations and management of patients with autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome type 1. Journal of Internal Medicine265: 519–529, 2009; Trence DL, Morley JE, Handwerger BS: Polyglandular autoimmune syndromes. American Journal of Medicine 77(1):107–116, 1984; Leshin M: Polyglandular autoimmune syndromes. American Journal of Medical Sciences290(2):77–88, 1985; Dittmar M, Kahaly GJ: Polyglandular autoimmune syndromes: immunogenetics and long-term follow-up.Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 88:2983–2992, 2003; and Eisenbarth GS, Gottlieb PA. Autoimmune polyendocrine syndromes. New England Journal of Medicine350:2068–2079, 2004.

Symptoms and Signs

The clinical appearance of patients with PDS is the sum of the individual endocrine deficiencies and associated nonendocrine disorders; their symptoms and signs are discussed elsewhere in The Manual. The deficiencies do not always appear at the same time and may require a period of years to manifest; in such cases they do not follow a particular sequence.


  • Measurement of hormone levels

  • Sometimes autoantibody titers

Diagnosis of polyglandular deficiency syndromes is suggested clinically and confirmed by detecting deficient hormone levels. Other causes of multiple endocrine deficiencies include hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction and coincidental endocrine dysfunction due to separate causes (eg, tuberculous hypoadrenalism and nonautoimmune hypothyroidism in the same patient). Detecting autoantibodies to each affected glandular tissue can help differentiate PDS from the other causes, and elevated levels of pituitary tropic hormones (eg, thyroid-stimulating hormone) suggest the hypothalamic-pituitary axis is intact (although some patients with type 2 PDS have hypothalamic-pituitary insufficiency).

Because decades may pass before the appearance of all manifestations, lifelong follow-up is prudent; unrecognized hypoparathyroidism or adrenal insufficiency can be life threatening.

Relatives should be made aware of the diagnosis and screened when appropriate. Trials following relatives of patients with type 1 diabetes for development of autoimmunity are currently enrolling.


  • Hormone replacement

Treatment of the various individual glandular deficiencies is discussed elsewhere in The Manual; the treatment of multiple deficiencies can be more complex than treatment of an isolated endocrine deficiency. For example, treatment of hypothyroidism with thyroid hormone replacement can precipitate an adrenal crisis in patients with undiagnosed adrenal insufficiency.

Chronic mucocutaneous candidiasis usually requires lifelong antifungal therapy (eg, oral fluconazole or ketoconazole).

Clinical trials of interventions to slow the autoimmune process in type 1 diabetes have shown some promise in delaying the complete destruction of insulin-producing beta-cells. Treatments that have been evaluated include immunotherapy and umbilical cord blood transplantation. Treatments are still experimental (1, 2).

Treatment references

  • Cai J, Wu Z, Xu X, et al: Umbilical cord mesenchymal stromal cell with autologous bone marrow cell transplantation in established type 1 diabetes: A pilot randomized controlled open-label clinical study to assess safety and impact on insulin secretion. Diabetes Care39:1 149–157, 2016.

  • Haller MJ, Gitelman SE, Gottlieb PA, et al: Anti-thymocyte globulin/G-CSF treatment preserves β cell function in patients with established type 1 diabetes. J Clin Invest 125(1):448–455, 2015.

Key Points

  • Polyglandular deficiency syndromes (PDS) involve deficiencies in the function of several endocrine glands, which may occur simultaneously or sequentially.

  • Nonendocrine organs also may be affected.

  • Most cases are autoimmune; triggers are often unknown but may involve viruses or dietary substances.

  • PDS are distinguished by the glands affected.

Resources In This Article

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

  • Drug Name
    Select Trade