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Open access

Seong Keat Cheah, David Halsall, Peter Barker, John Grant, Abraham Mathews, Shyam Seshadri and Singhan Krishnan

Summary

A frail 79-year-old lady with dementia presented with a 2-year history of frequent falls. Recurrent hypoglycaemic episodes were diagnosed and treated with continuous glucose infusion in multiple hospital admissions. Hypoadrenalism and hypothyroidism were ruled out. Whilst hypoglycaemic (blood glucose 1.6 mmol/L), both plasma C-peptide and proinsulin concentrations, were inappropriately elevated at 4210 pmol/L (174–960) and >200 pmol/L (0–7) respectively with plasma insulin suppressed at 12 pmol/L (0–180). Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma are typically pancreatic in origin, radiological investigations of the pancreas in this patient did not identify abnormalities. Unexpectedly contrast CT identified a heterogeneously enhancing mass (6.6 cm) at the lower pole of the left kidney consistent with renal cell carcinoma. Non-islet cell tumour-induced hypoglycaemia has been associated with renal malignancy; however, a serum IGF2:IGF1 ratio measured at <10 effectively excludes this diagnosis. Concomitantly on the CT, extensive peripherally enhancing heterogeneous mass lesions in the liver were identified, the largest measuring 12 cm. A palliative approach was taken due to multiple comorbidities. On post-mortem, the kidney lesion was confirmed as clear cell renal carcinoma, whilst the liver lesions were identified as proinsulin-secreting neuroendocrine tumours. In conclusion, the diagnosis of proinsulinoma can be missed if plasma proinsulin concentration is not measured at the time of hypoglycaemia. In this case, the plasma insulin:C-peptide ratio was too high to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin and was due to proinsulin cross-reactivity in the C-peptide assay. In addition, the concomitant malignancy proved to be a challenging red herring.

Learning points:

  • Even in non-diabetics, hypoglycaemia needs to be excluded in a setting of frequent falls. Insulin- or proinsulin-secreting tumours are potentially curable causes.

  • Whilst investigating spontaneous hypoglycaemia, if plasma insulin concentration is appropriate for the hypoglycaemia, it is prudent to check proinsulin concentrations during the hypoglycaemic episode.

  • Proinsulin cross-reacts variably with C-peptide and insulin assays; the effect is method dependent. In this case, the discrepancy between the insulin and C-peptide concentrations was too great to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin, raising the suspicion of assay interference. The C-peptide assay in question (Diasorin liaison) has been shown to be 100% cross reactive with proinsulin based on spiking studies with a proinsulin reference preparation.

  • Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma and 99% of insulinomas are of pancreatic origin, conventional imaging studies (CT, MRI or ultrasound) fail to detect neuroendocrine tumours <1 cm in 50% of cases.

  • The concomitant renal mass identified radiologically proved to be a red herring.

  • In view of the rarity of proinsulinoma, no conclusive association with renal cell carcinoma can be established.

Open access

Despoina Manousaki, Cheri Deal, Jean Jacques De Bruycker, Philippe Ovetchkine, Claude Mercier and Nathalie Alos

Summary

Cystic sellar lesions are a rare cause of hypopituitarism and extremely rare in the pediatric age group. The differential diagnosis is large and includes both primary pituitary abscesses and cystic components on pre-existing lesions, such as adenoma, craniopharyngioma, Rathke's cleft cyst, leukemia, granulomatous disease and lymphocytic hypophysitis. In the absence of a definitive diagnosis, treatment can be challenging. We report a case of a 15-year-old female, who presented with headaches, altered consciousness and diplopia after a molar extraction, for which she had received oral antibiotics. Broad-spectrum i.v. antibiotics were given for presumed meningitis. Blood cultures failed to identify pathogens. Cerebral magnetic resonance imaging showed a pituitary cystic lesion. Endocrine studies revealed abnormal pituitary function. In the absence of a therapeutic response, the patient underwent a transsphenoidal biopsy of the pituitary gland, which yielded a purulent liquid, but cultures were negative. Histopathology showed lymphocytic infiltrates but no neutrophils, compatible with an inflammation of autoimmune or infectious origin. High-dose glucocorticoid therapy was started and pursued, along with i.v. antibiotics, for 6 weeks, leading to clinical and radiological improvement but with persistence of endocrine deficits. In conclusion, this is a case of secondary panhypopituitarism due to a cystic pituitary lesion, with a differential diagnosis of lymphocytic hypophysitis vs abscess in a context of decapitated meningitis. Combination therapy with antibiotics and glucocorticoids is a legitimate approach in the face of diagnostic uncertainty, given the morbidity, and even mortality, associated with these lesions.

Learning points

  • It is not always easy to differentiate primary cystic sellar lesions (such as a primary infectious pituitary abscess) from cystic components on pre-existing lesions (such as adenoma, craniopharyngioma, Rathke's cleft cyst, leukemia or lymphocytic hypophysitis).

  • Because of the absence of specific symptoms and of immunohistochemical and serum markers, response to glucocorticoids can be the only way to differentiate lymphocytic hypophysitis from pituitary lesions of another origin. In addition, microbiological cultures are negative in 50% of cases of primary infectious sellar abscesses, thus the response to antibiotic treatment is often the key element to this diagnosis.

  • A short course of high-dose glucocorticoids combined with antibiotics is not harmful in cases where there is no diagnostic certainty as to the origin of a cystic sellar mass, given the morbidity and mortality associated with these lesions.

  • This approach may also diminish inflammation of either infectious or autoimmune origin while ensuring that the most likely pathogens are being targeted.