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Open access

Jai Madhok, Amy Kloosterboer, Chitra Venkatasubramanian, and Frederick G Mihm

Summary

We report the case of a 76-year-old male with a remote history of papillary thyroid cancer who developed severe paroxysmal headaches in the setting of episodic hypertension. Brain imaging revealed multiple lesions, initially of inconclusive etiology, but suspicious for metastatic foci. A search for the primary malignancy revealed an adrenal tumor, and biochemical testing confirmed the diagnosis of a norepinephrine-secreting pheochromocytoma. Serial imaging demonstrated multiple cerebral infarctions of varying ages, evidence of vessel narrowing and irregularities in the anterior and posterior circulations, and hypoperfusion in watershed areas. An exhaustive work-up for other etiologies of stroke including thromboembolic causes or vasculitis was unremarkable. There was resolution of symptoms, absence of new infarctions, and improvement in vessel caliber after adequate alpha-adrenergic receptor blockade for the management of pheochromocytoma. This clinicoradiologic constellation of findings suggested that the etiology of the multiple infarctions was reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS). Pheochromocytoma remains a poorly recognized cause of RCVS. Unexplained multifocal cerebral infarctions in the setting of severe hypertension should prompt the consideration of a vasoactive tumor as the driver of cerebrovascular dysfunction. A missed or delayed diagnosis has the potential for serious neurologic morbidity for an otherwise treatable condition.

Learning points:

  • The constellation of multifocal watershed cerebral infarctions of uncertain etiology in a patient with malignant hypertension should trigger the consideration of undiagnosed catecholamine secreting tumors, such as pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas.
  • Reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome is a serious but reversible cerebrovascular manifestation of pheochromocytomas that may lead to strokes (ischemic and hemorrhagic), seizures, and cerebral edema.
  • Alpha-adrenergic receptor blockade can reverse cerebral vasoconstriction and prevent further cerebral ischemia and infarctions.
  • Early diagnosis of catecholamine secreting tumors has the potential for reducing neurologic morbidity and mortality in patients presenting with cerebrovascular complications.
Open access

Shamaila Zaman, Bijal Patel, Paul Glynne, Mark Vanderpump, Ali Alsafi, Sairah Khan, Rashpal Flora, Fausto Palazzo, and Florian Wernig

Summary

Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production is an uncommon cause of Cushing’s syndrome and, rarely, the source can be a phaeochromocytoma. A 55-year-old man presented following an episode of presumed gastroenteritis with vomiting and general malaise. Further episodes of diarrhoea, joint pains and palpitations followed. On examination, he was hypertensive with no clinical features to suggest hypercortisolaemia. He was subsequently found to have raised plasma normetanephrines of 3.98 nmol/L (NR <0.71) and metanephrines of 0.69 nmol/L (NR <0.36). An adrenal CT showed a 3.8 cm right adrenal nodule, which was not MIBG-avid but was clinically and biochemically consistent with a phaeochromocytoma. He was started on alpha blockade and referred for right adrenalectomy. Four weeks later, on the day of admission for adrenalectomy, profound hypokalaemia was noted (serum potassium 2.0 mmol/L) with non-specific ST-segment ECG changes. He was also diagnosed with new-onset diabetes mellitus (capillary blood glucose of 28 mmol/L). He reported to have gained weight and his skin had become darker over the course of the last 4 weeks. Given these findings, he underwent overnight dexamethasone suppression testing, which showed a non-suppressed serum cortisol of 1099 nmol/L. Baseline serum ACTH was 273 ng/L. A preliminary diagnosis of ectopic ACTH secretion from the known right-sided phaeochromocytoma was made and he was started on metyrapone and insulin. Surgery was postponed for 4 weeks. Following uncomplicated laparoscopic adrenalectomy, the patient recovered with full resolution of symptoms.

Learning points:

  • Phaeochromocytomas are a rare source of ectopic ACTH secretion. A high clinical index of suspicion is therefore required to make the diagnosis.
  • Ectopic ACTH secretion from a phaeochromocytoma can rapidly progress to severe Cushing’s syndrome, thus complicating tumour removal.
  • Removal of the primary tumour often leads to full recovery.
  • The limited literature suggests that the presence of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome does not appear to have any long-term prognostic implications.
Open access

Alessandro Rossini, Francesca Perticone, Laura Frosio, Marco Schiavo Lena, and Roberto Lanzi

Summary

ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma is a very rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome, with a high morbidity and mortality risk due to both cortisol and catecholamines excess. We report the case of a 45-year-old female patient with a 3 cm, high-density, left adrenal mass, diagnosed as an ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma. The biochemical sensitivity of the tumor to somatostatin analogues was tested by a 100 μg s.c. octreotide administration, which led to an ACTH and cortisol reduction of 50 and 25% respectively. In addition to alpha and beta blockers, preoperative approach to laparoscopic adrenalectomy included octreotide, a somatostatin analogue, together with ketoconazole, in order to achieve an adequate pre-surgical control of cortisol release. Histopathological assessment confirmed an ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma expressing type 2 and 5 somatostatin receptors (SSTR-2 and -5).

Learning points:

  • ACTH-secreting pheochromocytomas represent a rare and severe condition, characterized by high morbidity and mortality risk.
  • Surgical removal of the adrenal mass is the gold standard treatment, but adequate medical therapy is required preoperatively to improve the surgical outcome and to avoid major complications.
  • Somatostatin analogs, in addition to other medications, may represent a useful therapeutic option for the presurgical management of selected patients.
  • In this sense, the octreotide challenge test is a useful tool to predict favorable therapeutic response to the treatment.
Open access

Eka Melson, Sidra Amir, Lisa Shepherd, Samina Kauser, Bethan Freestone, and Punith Kempegowda

Summary

Although pheochromocytoma classically presents with headaches, palpitations and paroxysmal hypertension, atypical presentations such as cardiomyopathy, stroke and subarachnoid haemorrhage have been infrequently documented. We present in this case report, an uncommon presentation of pheochromocytoma with myocardial infarction with normal coronary arteries (MINOCA). A 79-year-old woman presented with central crushing chest pain radiating to left arm associated with headache, palpitations, sweating and difficulty in breathing. For 2 years, she experienced brief episodes of headache, tinnitus, dizziness, palpitations, and sweating that spontaneously resolved. Clinical examination was unremarkable except for high blood pressure (210/105 mmHg). Her electrocardiogram showed T wave inversions from V1 to V6 and elevated troponins (774 ng/L at baseline and 932 ng/L 3 h from baseline (normal <16 ng/L) in keeping with a diagnosis of non-ST elevated myocardial infarction. Coronary angiography showed normal coronary arteries. Patient was hence treated as myocardial infarction with normal coronaries (MINOCA). Despite appropriate treatment for MINOCA, she continued to experience episodic headaches, palpitations, dizziness and erratic blood pressures (particularly severe hypertension shortly after beta-blocker administration). Further investigations revealed raised urine noradrenaline of 4724 nmol/24 h (<554 nmol/24 h) and urine adrenaline of 92863 nmol/24 h (<77 nmol/24 h). Computerised tomography demonstrated a well-defined rounded mass in right adrenal gland morphological of pheochromocytoma. She underwent laparoscopic right adrenalectomy with histology confirming pheochromocytoma. This case highlights the importance of thorough investigation for the underlying cause for MINOCA. In patients with unexplained erratic blood pressure control, pheochromocytoma should be considered as a differential diagnosis.

Learning points:

  • Pheochromocytoma is rare tumour that often presents with non-specific symptoms.
  • It is important to investigate underlying cause of MINOCA.
  • Thorough history is the key to diagnosis.
Open access

Valeria de Miguel, Andrea Paissan, Patricio García Marchiñena, Alberto Jurado, Mariana Isola, José Alfie, and Patricia Fainstein-Day

Summary

We present the case of a 25-year-old male with a history of neurofibromatosis type 1 and bilateral pheochromocytoma 4 years after kidney transplantation that was successfully treated with simultaneous bilateral posterior retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy.

Learning points:

  • Hypertensive patients with NF1 should always be screened for pheochromocytoma.
  • Pheochromocytoma is rarely associated with transplantation, but it must be ruled out in patients with genetic susceptibility.
  • Posterior retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy (PRA) allows more direct access to the adrenal glands, especially in patients with previous abdominal surgeries.
Open access

Aoife Garrahy, Matilde Bettina Mijares Zamuner, and Maria M Byrne

Summary

Coexistence of autoimmune diabetes and maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) is rare. We report the first case of coexisting latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood (LADA) and glucokinase (GCK) MODY. A 32-year-old woman was treated with insulin for gestational diabetes at age 32 years; post-partum, her fasting blood glucose was 6.0 mmol/L and 2-h glucose was 11.8 mmol/L following an oral glucose tolerance test, and she was maintained on diet alone. Five years later, a diagnosis of LADA was made when she presented with fasting blood glucose of 20.3 mmol/L and HbA1C 125 mmol/mol (13.6%). GCK-MODY was identified 14 years later when genetic testing was prompted by identification of a mutation in her cousin. Despite multiple daily insulin injections her glycaemic control remained above target and her clinical course has been complicated by multiple episodes of hypoglycaemia with unawareness. Although rare, coexistence of latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood and monogenic diabetes should be considered if there is a strong clinical suspicion, for example, family history. Hypoglycaemic unawareness developed secondary to frequent episodes of hypoglycaemia using standard glycaemic targets for LADA. This case highlights the importance of setting fasting glucose targets within the expected range for GCK-MODY in subjects with coexisting LADA.

Learning points:

  • We report the first case of coexisting latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood (LADA) and GCK-MODY.
  • It has been suggested that mutations in GCK may lead to altered counter-regulation and recognition of hypoglycaemia at higher blood glucose levels than patients without such mutation. However, in our case, hypoglycaemic unawareness developed secondary to frequent episodes of hypoglycaemia using standard glycaemic targets for LADA.
  • This case highlights the importance of setting fasting glucose targets within the expected range for GCK-MODY in subjects with coexisting LADA to avoid hypoglycaemia.
Open access

Natasha Shrikrishnapalasuriyar, Mirena Noyvirt, Philip Evans, Bethan Gibson, Elin Foden, and Atul Kalhan

A 54-year-old woman was admitted to hospital with a presumed allergic reaction to a single dose of amoxicillin given for a suspected upper respiratory tract infection. She complained of chest tightness although there was no wheeze or stridor. On examination, she was pyrexial, tachycardic, hypertensive and had a diffuse mottled rash on her lower limbs. Her initial investigations showed raised inflammatory markers. She was treated in the intensive care for a presumed anaphylactic reaction with an underlying sepsis. Further investigations including CT head and CSF examination were unremarkable; however, a CT abdomen showed a 10 cm heterogeneous right adrenal mass. Based on review by the endocrine team, a diagnosis of pheochromocytoma crisis was made, which was subsequently confirmed on 24-h urinary metanephrine measurement. An emergency adrenalectomy was considered although she was deemed unfit for surgery. Despite intensive medical management, her conditioned deteriorated and she died secondary to multi-organ failure induced by pheochromocytoma crisis.

Learning points:

  • Pheochromocytoma have relatively higher prevalence in autopsy series (0.05–1%) suggestive of a diagnosis, which is often missed.
  • Pheochromocytoma crisis is an endocrine emergency characterized by hemodynamic instability induced by surge of catecholamines often precipitated by trauma and medications (β blockers, general anesthetic agents, ephedrine and steroids).
  • Pheochromocytoma crisis can mimic acute coronary syndrome, cardiogenic or septic shock.
  • Livedo reticularis can be a rare although significant cutaneous marker of underlying pheochromocytoma crisis.
Open access

Catherine Alguire, Jessica Chbat, Isabelle Forest, Ariane Godbout, and Isabelle Bourdeau

Summary

Pheochromocytoma is a rare tumor of the adrenal gland. It often presents with the classic triad of headache, palpitations and generalized sweating. Although not described as a typical symptom of pheochromocytoma, anxiety is the fourth most common symptom reported by patients suffering of pheochromocytoma. We report the case of a 64 year old man who had severe anxiety and panic disorder as presenting symptoms of pheochromocytoma. After 13 years of psychiatric follow-up, the patient was diagnosed with malignant pheochromocytoma. After surgical resection of his pheochromocytoma and his hepatic metastases, the major panic attacks completely disappeared, the anxiety symptoms improved significantly and the psychiatric medications were stopped except for a very low maintenance dose of venlafaxine. We found in our cohort of 160 patients with pheochromocytoma 2 others cases of apparently benign tumors with severe anxiety that resolved after pheochromocytoma resection. These cases highlight that pheochromocytoma should be included in the differential diagnosis of refractory anxiety disorder.

Learning points:

  • Anxiety and panic disorder may be the main presenting symptoms of pheochromocytoma.
  • The diagnosis of pheochromocytoma should be excluded in cases of long-term panic disorder refractory to medications since the anxiety may be secondary to a catecholamine-secreting tumor.
  • Surgical treatment of pheochromocytoma leads to significant improvement of anxiety disorders.
Open access

Cheuk-Lik Wong, Chun-Kit Fok, and Vicki Ho-Kee Tam

Summary

We report a case of elderly Chinese lady with neurofibromatosis type-1 presenting with longstanding palpitation, paroxysmal hypertension and osteoporosis. Biochemical testing showed mild hypercalcaemia with non-suppressed parathyroid hormone level suggestive of primary hyperparathyroidism, and mildly elevated urinary fractionated normetanephrine and plasma-free normetanephrine pointing to a catecholamine-secreting pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma. Further scintigraphic investigation revealed evidence of a solitary parathyroid adenoma causing primary hyperparathyroidism and a left pheochromocytoma. Resection of the parathyroid adenoma and pheochromocytoma resulted in normalization of biochemical abnormalities and hypertension. The rare concurrence of primary hyperparathyroidism and pheochromocytoma in neurofibromatosis type-1 is discussed.

Learning points:

Open access

Run Yu, Danielle Sharaga, Christopher Donner, M Fernando Palma Diaz, Masha J Livhits, and Michael W Yeh

Summary

Pheochromocytomatosis, a very rare form of pheochromocytoma recurrence, refers to new, multiple, and often small pheochromocytomas growing in and around the surgical resection bed of a previous adrenalectomy for a solitary pheochromocytoma. We here report a case of pheochromocytomatosis in a 70-year-old female. At age 64 years, she was diagnosed with a 6-cm right pheochromocytoma. She underwent laparoscopic right adrenalectomy, during which the tumor capsule was ruptured. At age 67 years, CT of abdomen did not detect recurrence. At age 69 years, she began experiencing episodes of headache and diaphoresis. At age 70 years, biochemical markers of pheochromocytoma became elevated with normal calcitonin level. CT revealed multiple nodules of various sizes in the right adrenal fossa, some of which were positive on metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scan. She underwent open resection of pheochromocytomatosis. Histological examination confirmed numerous pheochromocytomas ranging 0.1–1.2 cm in size. Next-generation sequencing of a panel of genes found a novel heterozygous germline c.570delC mutation in TMEM127, one of the genes that, if mutated, confers susceptibility to syndromic pheochromocytoma. Molecular analysis showed that the c.570delC mutation is likely pathogenic. Our case highlights the typical presentation of pheochromocytomatosis, a rare complication of adrenalectomy for pheochromocytoma. Previous cases and ours collectively demonstrate that tumor capsule rupture during adrenalectomy is a risk factor for pheochromocytomatosis. We also report a novel TMEM127 mutation in this case.

Learning points:

  • Pheochromocytomatosis is a very rare form of pheochromocytoma recurrence.
  • Pheochromocytomatosis refers to new, multiple and often small pheochromocytomas growing in and around the surgical resection bed of a previous adrenalectomy for a solitary pheochromocytoma.
  • Tumor capsule rupture during adrenalectomy predisposes a patient to develop pheochromocytomatosis.
  • Surgical resection of the multiple tumors of pheochromocytomatosis is recommended.
  • Pheochromocytoma recurrence should prompt genetic testing for syndromic pheochromocytoma.