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Sophie Comte-Perret, Anne Zanchi and Fulgencio Gomez

Summary

Medical therapy for Cushing's syndrome due to bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (BMAH) is generally administered for a limited time before surgery. Aberrant receptors antagonists show inconsistent efficacy in the long run to prevent adrenalectomy. We present a patient with BMAH, treated for 10 years with low doses of ketoconazole to control cortisol secretion. A 48-year-old woman presented with headaches and hypertension. Investigations showed the following: no clinical signs of Cushing's syndrome; enlarged lobulated adrenals; normal creatinine, potassium, and aldosterone; normal urinary aldosterone and metanephrines; elevated urinary free cortisol and steroid metabolites; and suppressed plasma renin activity and ACTH. A screening protocol for aberrant adrenal receptors failed to show any illegitimate hormone dependence. Ketoconazole caused rapid normalisation of cortisol and ACTH that persists over 10 years on treatment, while adrenals show no change in shape or size. Ketoconazole decreases cortisol in patients with Cushing's syndrome, and may prevent adrenal overgrowth. Steroid secretion in BMAH is inefficient as compared with normal adrenals or secreting tumours and can be controlled with low, well-tolerated doses of ketoconazole, as an alternative to surgery.

Learning points

  • Enlarged, macronodular adrenals are often incidentally found during the investigation of hypertension in patients harboring BMAH. Although laboratory findings include low ACTH and elevated cortisol, the majority of patients do not display cushingoid features.

  • Bilateral adrenalectomy, followed by life-long steroid replacement, is the usual treatment of this benign condition, and alternative medical therapy is sought. Therapy based on aberrant adrenal receptors gives disappointing results, and inhibitors of steroidogenesis are not always well tolerated.

  • However, ketoconazole at low, well-tolerated doses appeared appropriate to control adrenal steroid secretion indefinitely, while preventing adrenal overgrowth. This treatment probably constitutes the most convenient long-term alternative to surgery.