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Open access

Ana Gonçalves Ferreira, Tiago Nunes da Silva, Sofia Alegria, Maria Carlos Cordeiro and Jorge Portugal

Summary

Pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma (PPGL) are neuroendocrine tumors that can secrete catecholamines. The authors describe a challenging case who presented as stress cardiomyopathy and myocardial infarction (MI). A 76-year-old man, with a medical history of Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidaemia and a previous inferior MI in 2001, presented to the emergency department due to chest pain, headaches and vomiting. He also reported worsening blood glucose levels and increasing constipation over the preceding weeks. BP was 185/89 mmHg (no other relevant findings). EKG had ST segment depression in leads V2-V6, T troponin was 600 ng/L (<14) and the echocardiogram showed left ventricular hypokinesia with mildly compromised systolic function. Nevertheless, he rapidly progressed to severe biventricular dysfunction. Coronary angiogram showed a 90% anterior descendent coronary artery occlusion (already present in 2001), which was treated with angioplasty/stenting. In the following days, a very labile BP profile and unexplained sinus tachycardia episodes were observed. Because of sustained severe constipation, the patient underwent an abdominal CT that revealed a retroperitoneal, heterogeneous, hypervascular mass on the right (62 × 35 mm), most likely a paraganglioma. Urinary metanephrines were increased several fold. 68Ga-DOTANOC PET-CT scan showed increased uptake in the abdominal mass (no evidence of disease elsewhere). He was started on a calcium-channel blocker and alpha blockade and underwent surgery with no major complications. Eight months after surgery, the patient has no evidence of disease. Genetic testing was negative for known germline mutations. This was a challenging diagnosis, but it was essential for adequate cardiovascular stabilization and to reduce further morbidity.

Learning points:

  • PPGL frequently produces catecholamines and can manifest with several cardiovascular syndromes, including stress cardiomyopathy and myocardial infarction.

  • Even in the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD), PPGL should be suspected if signs or symptoms attributed to catecholamine excess are present (in this case, high blood pressure, worsening hyperglycaemia and constipation).

  • Establishing the correct diagnosis is important for adequate treatment choice.

  • Inodilators and mechanical support might be preferable options (if available) for cardiovascular stabilization prior to alpha blockade and surgery.

  • Laboratory interference should be suspected irrespective of metanephrine levels, especially in the context of treated Parkinson’s disease.

Open access

Vasileios Chortis, Christine J H May, Kassiani Skordilis, John Ayuk, Wiebke Arlt and Rachel K Crowley

Summary

Context

Adrenal incidentalomas (AI) represent an increasingly common problem in modern endocrine practice. The diagnostic approach to AIs can be challenging and occasionally reveals surprising features. Here we describe two rare cases of complex adrenal lesions consisting of phaeochromocytomas with synchronous metastases from extra-adrenal primaries.

Case descriptions

Patient 1 – a 65-year-old gentleman with a newly diagnosed malignant melanoma was found to harbour an adrenal lesion with suspicious radiographic characteristics. Percutaneous adrenal biopsy was consistent with adrenocortical adenoma. After excision of the skin melanoma and regional lymphatic metastases, he was followed up without imaging. Three years later, he presented with abdominal discomfort and enlargement of his adrenal lesion, associated with high plasma metanephrines. Adrenalectomy revealed a mixed tumour consisting of a large phaeochromocytoma with an embedded melanoma metastasis in its core. Patient 2 – a 63-year-old lady with a history of NF-1-related phaeochromocytoma 20 years ago and previous breast cancer presented with a new adrenal lesion on the contralateral side. Plasma normetanephrine was markedly elevated. Elective adrenalectomy revealed an adrenal tumour consisting of chromaffin cells intermixed with breast carcinoma cells.

Conclusions

Adrenal incidentalomas require careful evaluation to exclude metastatic disease, especially in the context of a history of previous malignancy. Adrenal biopsy provides limited and potentially misleading information. Phaeochromocytomas are highly vascularised tumours that may function as a sieve, extracting and retaining irregularly shaped cancer cells, thereby yielding adrenal masses with intriguing dual pathology.

Learning points:

  • Adrenal incidentalomas require careful evaluation focused on exclusion of underlying hormone excess and malignant pathology.

  • Adrenal biopsy can be misleading and should only be considered in select cases.

  • Phaeochromocytomas harbouring intratumoural metastases from other, extra-adrenal primary malignancies represent rare pathological entities that highlight the complexities that can be presented by adrenal tumours.

Open access

Catherine D Zhang, Pavel N Pichurin, Aleh Bobr, Melanie L Lyden, William F Young Jr and Irina Bancos

Summary

Carney complex (CNC) is a rare multiple neoplasia syndrome characterized by spotty pigmentation of the skin and mucosa in association with various non-endocrine and endocrine tumors, including primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD). A 20-year-old woman was referred for suspected Cushing syndrome. She had signs of cortisol excess as well as skin lentigines on physical examination. Biochemical investigation was suggestive of corticotropin (ACTH)-independent Cushing syndrome. Unenhanced computed tomography scan of the abdomen did not reveal an obvious adrenal mass. She subsequently underwent bilateral laparoscopic adrenalectomy, and histopathology was consistent with PPNAD. Genetic testing revealed a novel frameshift pathogenic variant c.488delC/p.Thr163MetfsX2 (ClinVar Variation ID: 424516) in the PRKAR1A gene, consistent with clinical suspicion for CNC. Evaluation for other clinical features of the complex was unrevealing. We present a case of PPNAD-associated Cushing syndrome leading to the diagnosis of CNC due to a novel PRKAR1A pathogenic variant.

Learning points:

  • PPNAD should be considered in the differential for ACTH-independent Cushing syndrome, especially when adrenal imaging appears normal.

  • The diagnosis of PPNAD should prompt screening for CNC.

  • CNC is a rare multiple neoplasia syndrome caused by inactivating pathogenic variants in the PRKAR1A gene.

  • Timely diagnosis of CNC and careful surveillance can help prevent potentially fatal complications of the disease.

Open access

Ilan Rahmani Tzvi-Ran, Judith Olchowski, Merav Fraenkel, Asher Bashiri and Leonid Barski

Summary

A previously healthy 24-year-old female underwent an emergent caesarean section without a major bleeding described. During the first post-operative days (POD) she complained of fatigue, headache and a failure to lactate with no specific and conclusive findings on head CT. On the following days, fever rose with a suspicion of an obstetric surgery-related infection, again with no evidence to support the diagnosis. On POD5 a new-onset hyponatremia was documented. The urine analysis suggested SIADH, and following a treatment failure, further investigation was performed and demonstrated both central hypothyroidism and adrenal insufficiency. The patient was immediately treated with hydrocortisone followed by levothyroxine with a rapid resolution of symptoms and hyponatremia. Further laboratory investigation demonstrated anterior hypopituitarism. The main differential diagnosis was Sheehan’s syndrome vs lymphocytic hypophysitis. Brain MRI was performed as soon as it was available and findings consistent with Sheehan’s syndrome confirmed the diagnosis. Lifelong hormonal replacement therapy was initiated. Further complaints on polyuria and polydipsia have led to a water deprivation testing and the diagnosis of partial central insipidus and appropriate treatment with DDAVP.

Learning points:

  • Sheehan’s syndrome can occur, though rarely, without an obvious major post-partum hemorrhage.

  • The syndrome may resemble lymphocytic hypophysitis clinically and imaging studies may be crucial in order to differentiate both conditions.

  • Hypopituitarism presentation may be variable and depends on the specific hormone deficit.

  • Euvolemic hyponatremia workup must include thyroid function test and 08:00 AM cortisol levels.

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

Matthieu St-Jean, Jessica MacKenzie-Feder, Isabelle Bourdeau and André Lacroix

Summary

A 29-year-old G4A3 woman presented at 25 weeks of pregnancy with progressive signs of Cushing’s syndrome (CS), gestational diabetes requiring insulin and hypertension. A 3.4 × 3.3 cm right adrenal adenoma was identified during abdominal ultrasound imaging for nephrolithiasis. Investigation revealed elevated levels of plasma cortisol, 24 h urinary free cortisol (UFC) and late-night salivary cortisol (LNSC). Serum ACTH levels were not fully suppressed (4 and 5 pmol/L (N: 2–11)). One month post-partum, CS regressed, 24-h UFC had normalised while ACTH levels were now less than 2 pmol/L; however, dexamethasone failed to suppress cortisol levels. Tests performed in vivo 6 weeks post-partum to identify aberrant hormone receptors showed no cortisol stimulation by various tests (including 300 IU hLH i.v.) except after administration of 250 µg i.v. Cosyntropin 1–24. Right adrenalectomy demonstrated an adrenocortical adenoma and atrophy of adjacent cortex. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis of the adenoma revealed the presence of ACTH (MC2) receptor mRNA, while LHCG receptor mRNA was almost undetectable. This case reveals that CS exacerbation in the context of pregnancy can result from the placental-derived ACTH stimulation of MC2 receptors on the adrenocortical adenoma. Possible contribution of other placental-derived factors such as oestrogens, CRH or CRH-like peptides cannot be ruled out.

Learning points:

  • Diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy is complicated by several physiological alterations in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis regulation occurring in normal pregnancy.

  • Cushing’s syndrome (CS) exacerbation during pregnancy can be associated with aberrant expression of LHCG receptor on primary adrenocortical tumour or hyperplasia in some cases, but not in this patient.

  • Placental-derived ACTH, which is not subject to glucocorticoid negative feedback, stimulated cortisol secretion from this adrenal adenoma causing transient CS exacerbation during pregnancy.

  • Following delivery and tumour removal, suppression of HPA axis can require several months to recover and requires glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

Open access

Diana Oliveira, Mara Ventura, Miguel Melo, Sandra Paiva and Francisco Carrilho

Summary

Addison’s disease (AD) is the most common endocrine manifestation of antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), but it remains a very rare complication of the syndrome. It is caused by adrenal venous thrombosis and consequent hemorrhagic infarction or by spontaneous (without thrombosis) adrenal hemorrhage, usually occurring after surgery or anticoagulant therapy. We present a clinical case of a 36-year-old female patient with a previous diagnosis of APS. She presented with multiple thrombotic events, including spontaneous abortions. During evaluation by the third episode of abortion, a CT imaging revealed an adrenal hematoma, but the patient was discharged without further investigation. A few weeks later, she presented in the emergency department with manifestations suggestive of adrenal insufficiency. Based on that assumption, she started therapy with glucocorticoids, with significant clinical improvement. After stabilization, additional investigation confirmed AD and excluded other etiologies; she also started mineralocorticoid replacement. This case illustrates a rare complication of APS that, if misdiagnosed, may be life threatening. A high index of suspicion is necessary for its diagnosis, and prompt treatment is crucial to reduce the morbidity and mortality potentially associated.

Learning points:

  • AD is a rare but life-threatening complication of APS.

  • It is important to look for AD in patients with APS and a suggestive clinical scenario.

  • APS must be excluded in patients with primary adrenal insufficiency and adrenal imaging revealing thrombosis/hemorrhage.

  • Glucocorticoid therapy should be promptly initiated when AD is suspected.

  • Mineralocorticoid replacement must be started when there is confirmed aldosterone deficiency.

  • Hypertension is a common feature of APS; in patients with APS and AD, replacement therapy with glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids may jeopardize hypertension management.

Open access

M A Shehab, Tahseen Mahmood, M A Hasanat, Md Fariduddin, Nazmul Ahsan, Mohammad Shahnoor Hossain, Md Shahdat Hossain and Sharmin Jahan

Summary

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) due to the three-beta-hydroxysteroid-dehydrogenase (3β-HSD) enzyme deficiency is a rare autosomal recessive disorder presenting with sexual precocity in a phenotypic male. Klinefelter syndrome (KS) is the most common sex chromosome aneuploidy presenting with hypergonadotropic hypogonadism in a male. However, only a handful of cases of mosaic KS have been described in the literature. The co-existence of mosaic KS with CAH due to 3β-HSD enzyme deficiency portrays a unique diagnostic paradox where features of gonadal androgen deficiency are masked by simultaneous adrenal androgen excess. Here, we report a 7-year-old phenotypic male boy who, at birth presented with ambiguous genitalia, probably a microphallus with penoscrotal hypospadias. Later on, he developed accelerated growth with advanced bone age, premature pubarche, phallic enlargement and hyperpigmentation. Biochemically, the patient was proven to have CAH due to 3β-HSD deficiency. However, the co-existence of bilateral cryptorchidism made us to consider the possibility of hypogonadism as well, and it was further explained by concurrent existence of mosaic KS (47,XXY/46,XX). He was started on glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement and underwent right-sided orchidopexy on a later date. He showed significant clinical and biochemical improvement on subsequent follow-up. However, the declining value of serum testosterone was accompanied by rising level of FSH thereby unmasking hypergonadotropic hypogonadism due to mosaic KS. In future, we are planning to place him on androgen replacement as well.

Learning points:

  • Ambiguous genitalia with subsequent development of sexual precocity in a phenotypic male points towards some unusual varieties of CAH.

  • High level of serum testosterone, adrenal androgen, plasma ACTH and low basal cortisol are proof of CAH, whereas elevated level of 17-OH pregnenolone is biochemical marker of 3β-HSD enzyme deficiency.

  • Final diagnosis can be obtained with sequencing of HSD3B2 gene showing various mutations.

  • Presence of bilateral cryptorchidism in such a patient may be due to underlying hypogonadism.

  • Karyotyping in such patient may rarely show mosaic KS (47,XXY/46,XX) and there might be unmasking of hypergonadotropic hypogonadism resulting from adrenal androgen suppression from glucocorticoid treatment.

Open access

Philip D Oddie, Benjamin B Albert, Paul L Hofman, Craig Jefferies, Stephen Laughton and Philippa J Carter

Summary

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) during childhood is a rare malignant tumor that frequently results in glucocorticoid and/or androgen excess. When there are signs of microscopic or macroscopic residual disease, adjuvant therapy is recommended with mitotane, an adrenolytic and cytotoxic drug. In addition to the anticipated side effect of adrenal insufficiency, mitotane is known to cause gynecomastia and hypothyroidism in adults. It has never been reported to cause precocious puberty. A 4-year-old girl presented with a 6-week history of virilization and elevated androgen levels and 1-year advancement in bone age. Imaging revealed a right adrenal mass, which was subsequently surgically excised. Histology revealed ACC with multiple unfavorable features, including high mitotic index, capsular invasion and atypical mitoses. Adjuvant chemotherapy was started with mitotane, cisplatin, etoposide and doxorubicin. She experienced severe gastrointestinal side effects and symptomatic adrenal insufficiency, which occurred despite physiological-dose corticosteroid replacement. She also developed hypothyroidism that responded to treatment with levothyroxine and peripheral precocious puberty (PPP) with progressive breast development and rapidly advancing bone age. Five months after discontinuing mitotane, her adrenal insufficiency persisted and she developed secondary central precocious puberty (CPP). This case demonstrates the diverse endocrine complications associated with mitotane therapy, which contrast with the presentation of ACC itself. It also provides the first evidence that the known estrogenic effect of mitotane can manifest as PPP.

Learning points:

  • Adrenocortical carcinoma is an important differential diagnosis for virilization in young children

  • Mitotane is a chemotherapeutic agent that is used to treat adrenocortical carcinoma and causes adrenal necrosis

  • Mitotane is an endocrine disruptor. In addition to the intended effect of adrenal insufficiency, it can cause hypothyroidism, with gynecomastia also reported in adults.

  • Patients taking mitotane require very high doses of hydrocortisone replacement therapy because mitotane interferes with steroid metabolism. This effect persists after mitotane therapy is completed

  • In our case, mitotane caused peripheral precocious puberty, possibly through its estrogenic effect.

Open access

Tanja Miličević, Ivan Žaja, Deša Tešanović and Maja Radman

Summary

Laugier–Hunziker syndrome (LHS) is a rare, benign and acquired disorder characterized by hyperpigmentation of the oral cavity and lips along with longitudinal melanonychia. No underlying systemic abnormalities or malignant predisposition is associated with it. In everyday clinical practice, an endocrinologist encounters certain endocrine conditions (e.g. Addison’s disease, McCune–Albright syndrome) that present with, inter alia, mucocutaneous hyperpigmentation. Even though LHS is easily distinguished from endocrine entities mentioned earlier, diagnostic evaluation usually requires skilled and thorough practitioner. Since it is the diagnosis of exclusion, a number of systemic conditions must be ruled out prior to making the final diagnosis. However, its major differential diagnosis is primarily Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, which carries an increased risk of cancer. Here, we report a case of a young woman who was referred to the endocrinologist for diagnostic evaluation of dark-colored lesions of the oral cavity and nails. All performed laboratory tests were within reference range. Endoscopic gastrointestinal evaluation did not reveal neoplastic formations. Owing to an adult-onset, asymptomatic clinical course and negative diagnostic findings, we made a final diagnosis. In this case, target diagnostic evaluation notably reduced the need for additional expensive and invasive procedures and treatments.

Learning points:

  • Laugier–Hunziker syndrome is a rare, acquired cause of asymptomatic, benign mucocutaneous hyperpigmentation.

  • Prior to making a final diagnosis, certain medical entities with overlapping clinical features must be excluded.

  • Endocrine conditions that usually present with the hyperpigmentation of the skin and mucous membranes (e.g. Addison’s disease, McCune–Albright syndrome) can be easily ruled out based on clinical and laboratory findings.

  • Its major differential diagnosis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome is characterized by melanotic macules of the face and mouth, intestinal polyposis and significantly increased risk of different types of cancer, especially gastrointestinal.

  • Anamnesis, physical examination and target diagnostic evaluation reduce the need for additional invasive and expensive procedures and treatment.