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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

Catarina Roque, Ricardo Fonseca, Carlos Tavares Bello, Carlos Vasconcelos, António Galzerano and Sância Ramos

Summary

Primary adrenal lymphoma is a rare malignancy. It frequently presents bilaterally and with symptoms of adrenal insufficiency. Amiodarone may induce secondary organ dysfunction, and thyrotoxicosis develops in 15% of cases. The symptomatology of both conditions is nonspecific, especially in the elderly, and a high suspicion index is necessary for appropriate diagnosis. A 78-year-old female presented to the emergency department with confusion, nausea and vomiting. She had recently been to the emergency department with urinary tract infection, vomiting and acute hypochloremic hyponatremia. Upon re-evaluation, the leukocyturia persisted and because of TSH 0.01 µU/mL and free-T4 68 (10–18) pmol/L, she was admitted to the Endocrinology ward. Further evaluation supported amiodarone-induced thyroiditis type 2. Sepsis ensued, in the setting of nosocomial pneumonia. Hemodynamic instability, hyponatremia, hypoglycemia and vomiting raised the suspicion of adrenocortical insufficiency. Fluid resuscitation and hydrocortisone led to clinical improvement, and adrenal insufficiency was admitted. The thoracoabdominal tomography suggested an endobronchic primary lesion with hepatic and adrenal secondary deposits (6.6 and 7 cm), but this was confirmed neither on pleural effusion nor on bronchofibroscopic fluid analyses. The adrenals were not accessible for biopsy. Despite high-dose hydrocortisone maintenance, the patient died before definite diagnosis. The autopsy confirmed primary non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Learning points:

  • Primary adrenal lymphoma is a rare cause of adrenal insufficiency, but progression can be fast and fatal.

  • Hyperpigmentation is frequently absent.

  • The presenting symptoms are nonspecific and might mimic infection. Disproportion of the general state with signs of specific organ symptomatology is a diagnostic clue.

  • Infection may precipitate adrenal crisis and worsen thyroid function with further adrenal insufficiency exacerbation.

  • In the context of thyrotoxicosis, there may be little clinical response to a therapeutic trial with standard dose glucocorticoids.

  • High-dose glucocorticoid substitution may be required to achieve clinical stability in thyrotoxic patients.

Open access

Adriana de Sousa Lages, Isabel Paiva, Patrícia Oliveira, Francisco Portela and Francisco Carrilho

Summary

Insulinomas are the most frequent cause of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia. Although surgical enucleation is the standard treatment, a few other options are available to high-risk patients who are elderly or present with co-morbidities. We present a case report of an 89-year-old female patient who was admitted to the emergency department due to recurrent hypoglycaemia, especially during fasting. Laboratory work-up raised the suspicion of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia, and abdominal CT scan revealed a 12 mm nodular hypervascular lesion of the pancreatic body suggestive of neuroendocrine tumour. The patient was not considered a suitable candidate for surgery, and medical therapy with diazoxide was poorly tolerated. Endoscopic ultrasound-guided ethanol ablation therapy was performed and a total of 0.6 mL of 95% ethanol was injected into the lesion by a transgastric approach; no complications were reported after the procedure. At 5 months of follow-up, no episodes of hypoglycaemia were reported, no diazoxide therapy was necessary, and revaluation abdominal CT scan revealed a pancreatic nodular lesion with a size involution of about half of its original volume. The patient is regularly followed-up at the endocrinology clinic and shows a significant improvement in her wellbeing and quality of life.

Learning points:

  • Insulinomas are the most frequent cause of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia.

  • Surgical enucleation is the standard treatment with a few other options available to high-risk patients.

  • Endoscopic ultrasound-guided ethanol ablation therapy is one feasible option in high-risk patients with satisfactory clinical outcomes, significant positive impact on quality of life and low complication rates related to the procedure.

Open access

Katia Regina Marchetti, Maria Adelaide Albergaria Pereira, Arnaldo Lichtenstein and Edison Ferreira Paiva

Summary

Adrenacarcinomas are rare, and hypoglycemic syndrome resulting from the secretion of insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II) by these tumors have been described infrequently. This study describes the case of a young woman with severe persistent hypoglycemia and a large adrenal tumor and discusses the physiopathological mechanisms involved in hypoglycemia. The case is described as a 21-year-old woman who presented with 8 months of general symptoms and, in the preceding 3 months, with episodes of mental confusion and visual blurring secondary to hypoglycemia. A functional assessment of the adrenal cortex revealed ACTH-independent hypercortisolism and hyperandrogenism. Hypoglycemia, hypoinsulinemia, low C-peptide and no ketones were also detected. An evaluation of the GH–IGF axis revealed GH blockade (0.03; reference: up to 4.4 ng/mL), greatly reduced IGF-I levels (9.0 ng/mL; reference: 180–780 ng/mL), slightly reduced IGF-II levels (197 ng/mL; reference: 267–616 ng/mL) and an elevated IGF-II/IGF-I ratio (21.9; reference: ~3). CT scan revealed a large expansive mass in the right adrenal gland and pulmonary and liver metastases. During hospitalization, the patient experienced frequent difficult-to-control hypoglycemia and hypokalemia episodes. Octreotide was ineffective in controlling hypoglycemia. Due to unresectability, chemotherapy was tried, but after 3 months, the patient’s condition worsened and progressed to death. In conclusion, our patient presented with a functional adrenal cortical carcinoma, with hyperandrogenism associated with hypoinsulinemic hypoglycemia and blockage of the GH–IGF-I axis. Patient’s data suggested a diagnosis of hypoglycemia induced by an IGF-II or a large IGF-II-producing tumor (low levels of GH, greatly decreased IGF-I, slightly decreased IGF-II and an elevated IGF-II/IGF-I ratio).

Learning points:

  • Hypoglycemyndrome resulting from the secretion of insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II) by adrenal tumors is a rare condition.

  • Hypoinsulinemic hypoglycemia associated with hyperandrogenism and blockage of the GH–IGF-I axis suggests hypoglycemia induced by an IGF-II or a large IGF-II-producing tumor.

  • Hypoglycemia in cases of NICTH should be treated with glucocorticoids, glucagon, somatostatin analogs and hGH.

Open access

Chun-Han Lo and Ding-Ping Sun

Summary

Insulinomas are the most common cause of hypoglycemia resulting from endogenous hyperinsulinism. Traditionally, inappropriately elevated levels of insulin in the face of hypoglycemia are the key to diagnosis. However, contradictory levels of insulin and C-peptide do not necessarily exclude the diagnosis. A 50-year-old female was brought to our emergency department because of conscious disturbance on the previous night. She had no history of diabetes mellitus, and was not using any medications or alcohol. Laboratory data showed low sugar, a significantly low insulin level, and elevated C-peptide. After admission, she had multiple episodes of spontaneous hypoglycemia after overnight fasts without discomfort. It was considered that a neuroendocrine tumor was the source of her hypoglycemia. CT scan of the abdomen revealed a 1.1cm hypervascular nodule in the pancreatic tail. Elective laparoscopic distal pancreatectomy was incorporated into her treatment course. A 1.2×1.0cm homogenous well-encapsulated tumor was resected. We monitored her glucose levels in the outpatient clinic every month for a period of six months. She did not have another episode of spontaneous hypoglycemia.

Learning points

  • Insulinoma causes endogenous hypoglycemia – it cannot be ruled out in patients presenting with hypoglycemia and low insulin levels; history and imaging studies should be done for further assessment

  • A 24-h fast test has the same clinical significance as that of 72-h fast test

  • C-peptide is a useful biochemical marker in addition to serum insulin, which can be used to diagnose insulinomas

  • CT scan is used to measure the tumor size and localize the tumor. However, definitive diagnosis is only achieved through histopathologic evaluation of diseased tissue

Open access

Benjamin G Challis, Nicolai J Wewer Albrechtsen, Vishakha Bansiya, Keith Burling, Peter Barker, Bolette Hartmann, Fiona Gribble, Stephen O'Rahilly, Jens J Holst and Helen L Simpson

Summary

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (pNETs) secreting proglucagon are associated with phenotypic heterogeneity. Here, we describe two patients with pNETs and varied clinical phenotypes due to differential processing and secretion of proglucagon-derived peptides (PGDPs). Case 1, a 57-year-old woman presented with necrolytic migratory erythema, anorexia, constipation and hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia. She was found to have a grade 1 pNET, small bowel mucosal thickening and hyperglucagonaemia. Somatostatin analogue (SSA) therapy improved appetite, abolished hypoglycaemia and improved the rash. Case 2, a 48-year-old male presented with diabetes mellitus, diarrhoea, weight loss, nausea, vomiting and perineal rash due to a grade 1 metastatic pNET and hyperglucagonaemia. In both cases, plasma levels of all measured PGDPs were elevated and attenuated following SSA therapy. In case 1, there was increased production of intact glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) and GLP-2, similar to that of the enteroendocrine L cell. In case 2, pancreatic glucagon was elevated due to a pancreatic α-cell-like proglucagon processing profile. In summary, we describe two patients with pNETs and heterogeneous clinical phenotypes due to differential processing and secretion of PGDPs. This is the first description of a patient with symptomatic hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia and marked gastrointestinal dysfunction due to, in part, a proglucagon-expressing pNET.

Learning points

  • PGDPs exhibit a diverse range of biological activities including critical roles in glucose and amino acid metabolism, energy homeostasis and gastrointestinal physiology.

  • The clinical manifestations of proglucagon-expressing tumours may exhibit marked phenotypic variation due to the biochemical heterogeneity of their secreted peptide repertoire.

  • Specific and precise biochemical assessment of individuals with proglucagon-expressing tumours may provide opportunities for improved diagnosis and clinical management.

Open access

G K Dimitriadis, K Gopalakrishnan, R Rao, D K Grammatopoulos, H S Randeva, M O Weickert and N Murthy

Summary

We report the case of a 70-year-old previously healthy female who presented acutely to the Accident and Emergency department with left-sided vasomotor symptoms including reduced muscle tone, weakness upon walking and slurred speech. Physical examination confirmed hemiparesis with VIIth nerve palsy and profound hepatomegaly. A random glucose was low at 1.7 mmol/l, which upon correction resolved her symptoms. In hindsight, the patient recalled having had similar episodes periodically over the past 3 months to which she did not give much attention. While hospitalized, she continued having episodes of symptomatic hypoglycaemia during most nights, requiring treatment with i.v. dextrose and/or glucagon. Blood tests including insulin and C-peptide were invariably suppressed, in correlation with low glucose. A Synacthen stimulation test was normal (Cort (0′) 390 nmol/l, Cort (30′) 773 nmol/l). A computed tomography scan showed multiple lobulated masses in the abdomen, liver and pelvis. An ultrasound guided biopsy of one of the pelvic masses was performed. Immunohistochemistry supported the diagnosis of a gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST) positive for CD34 and CD117. A diagnosis of a non islet cell tumour hypoglycaemia (NICTH) secondary to an IGF2 secreting GIST was confirmed with further biochemical investigations (IGF2=96.5 nmol/l; IGF2:IGF1 ratio 18.9, ULN <10). Treatment with growth hormone resolved the patient's hypoglycaemic symptoms and subsequent targeted therapy with Imatinib was successful in controlling disease progression over an 8-year observation period.

Learning points

  • NICTH can be a rare complication of GISTs that may manifest with severe hypoglycaemia and neuroglucopenic symptoms.

  • NICTH can masquerade as other pathologies thus causing diagnostic confusion.

  • Histological confirmation of GIST induced NICTH and exclusion of other conditions causing hypoglycaemia is essential.

  • Mutational analysis of GISTs should be carried out in all cases as it guides treatment decision.

  • Tailored management of hypoglycaemia, in this case using growth hormone and targeted cyto-reductive therapy, minimizes the risk of possible life-threatening complications.

Open access

Avital Nahmias, Simona Grozinsky-Glasberg, Asher Salmon and David J Gross

Summary

Approximately 35% of the pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (pNETs) are functional, the most common of which is an insulinoma. Rarely can initially nonfunctioning tumor undergo biological transformation to a hormone-secreting tumor with subsequent changes in the clinical picture. We present here three unique patients with long-standing pNETs who developed life-threatening hyperinsulinemic hypoglycemia along with tumor progression. In two of the patients, everolimus (Afinitor) was administered in an attempt to control both tumor growth and hypoglycemia. In two cases everolimus therapy resulted in the abolishment of hypoglycemia and induced significant tumor regression; however these beneficial responses were transient. These cases highlight the exceptional ability of pNETs to change biological behavior in parallel with disease progression. Our experience concurs with recently published studies demonstrating the utility of everolimus for the control of both hypoglycemia and tumor progression.

Learning points

  • Nonfunctional pNET can gain new features such as insulin secretion with related morbidity.

  • Gain of function in a previously nonfunctional pNET signifies tumor progression and is usually associated with poor prognosis.

  • Everolimus proved to be a viable treatment for hypoglycemia in insulinoma patients and was also proven highly effective in the patients presented here.

  • As disease progresses, the effect of everolimus on hypoglycemia wanes. We report for the first time the development of hypoglycemia during everolimus treatment.