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Open access

Lima Lawrence, Peng Zhang, Humberto Choi, Usman Ahmad, Valeria Arrossi, Andrei Purysko, and Vinni Makin

Summary

Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production leading to ectopic ACTH syndrome accounts for a small proportion of all Cushing’s syndrome (CS) cases. Thymic neuroendocrine tumors are rare neoplasms that may secrete ACTH leading to rapid development of hypercortisolism causing electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and an increased risk for opportunistic infections. We present a unique case of a patient who presented with a mediastinal mass, revealed to be an ACTH-secreting thymic neuroendocrine tumor (NET) causing ectopic CS. As the diagnosis of CS from ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) remains challenging, we emphasize the necessity for high clinical suspicion in the appropriate setting, concordance between biochemical, imaging and pathology findings, along with continued vigilant monitoring for recurrence after definitive treatment.

Learning points:

  • Functional thymic neuroendocrine tumors are exceedingly rare.

  • Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome secondary to thymic neuroendocrine tumors secreting ACTH present with features of hypercortisolism including electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and hyperglycemia, and opportunistic infections.

  • The ability to undergo surgery and completeness of resection are the strongest prognostic factors for improved overall survival; however, the recurrence rate remains high.

  • A high degree of initial clinical suspicion followed by vigilant monitoring is required for patients with this challenging disease.

Open access

Charlotte Boughton, David Taylor, Lea Ghataore, Norman Taylor, and Benjamin C Whitelaw

Summary

We describe severe hypokalaemia and hypertension due to a mineralocorticoid effect in a patient with myelodysplastic syndrome taking posaconazole as antifungal prophylaxis. Two distinct mechanisms due to posaconazole are identified: inhibition of 11β hydroxylase leading to the accumulation of the mineralocorticoid hormone 11-deoxycorticosterone (DOC) and secondly, inhibition of 11β hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11βHSD2), as demonstrated by an elevated serum cortisol-to-cortisone ratio. The effects were ameliorated by spironolactone. We also suggest that posaconazole may cause cortisol insufficiency. Patients taking posaconazole should therefore be monitored for hypokalaemia, hypertension and symptoms of hypocortisolaemia, at the onset of treatment and on a monthly basis. Treatment with mineralocorticoid antagonists (spironolactone or eplerenone), supplementation of glucocorticoids (e.g. hydrocortisone) or dose reduction or cessation of posaconazole should all be considered as management strategies.

Learning points:

  • Combined hypertension and hypokalaemia are suggestive of mineralocorticoid excess; further investigation is appropriate.

  • If serum aldosterone is suppressed, then further investigation to assess for an alternative mineralocorticoid is appropriate, potentially using urine steroid profiling and/or serum steroid panelling.

  • Posaconazole can cause both hypokalaemia and hypertension, and we propose that this is due to two mechanisms – both 11β hydroxylase inhibition and 11β HSD2 inhibition.

  • Posaconazole treatment may lead to cortisol insufficiency, which may require treatment; however, in this clinical case, the effect was mild.

  • First-line treatment of this presentation would likely be use of a mineralocorticoid antagonist.

  • Patients taking posaconazole should be monitored for hypertension and hypokalaemia on initiation and monthly thereafter.

Open access

Maura Bucciarelli, Ya-Yu Lee, and Vasudev Magaji

Summary

Ectopic ACTH secretion from breast cancer is extremely rare. We report a case of a 30-year-old woman with a history of breast cancer, who presented with psychosis and paranoid behaviour. CT of the head showed white matter disease consistent with posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES). Despite using mifepristone with multiple antihypertensives including lisinopril, spironolactone and metoprolol, she was hypertensive. Transaminitis did not allow mifepristone dose escalation and ketoconazole utilization. Etomidate infusion at a non-sedating dose in the intensive care unit controlled her hypertension and cortisol levels. She was transitioned to metyrapone and spironolactone. She was discharged from the hospital on metyrapone with spironolactone and underwent chemotherapy. She died 9 months later after she rapidly redeveloped Cushing's syndrome and had progressive metastatic breast cancer involving multiple bones, liver and lungs causing respiratory failure.

Learning points

  • Cushing's syndrome from ectopic ACTH secreting breast cancer is extremely rare.

  • Cushing's syndrome causing psychosis could be multifactorial including hypercortisolism and PRES.

  • Etomidate at non-sedating doses in intensive care setting can be effective to reduce cortisol production followed by transition to oral metyrapone.