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Open access

A Veltroni, G Zambon, S Cingarlini and M V Davì

Summary

Insulin autoimmune syndrome (IAS), a rare cause of autoimmune hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia, is relatively well known in Japan. The incidence in Caucasians is less than one-fifth of that reported in Japanese people, but it is becoming increasingly recognised worldwide in non-Asians as well. Drugs containing sulphydryl groups are known to be associated with the disease in genetically predisposed individuals. Moreover, several recent reports showed a direct association between the onset of IAS and the consumption of dietary supplements containing alpha-lipoic acid (LA). Insulinoma remains the most prevalent cause of hypersulinaemic hypoglycaemia in Caucasians. Consequently, primary investigation in these patients is generally focused on localisation of the pancreatic tumour, often with invasive procedures followed by surgery. We described a case of an Italian woman presenting to us with severe recurrent hypoglycaemia associated with high insulin and C-peptide levels and no evidence of pancreatic lesions at imaging diagnostic procedures. She had taken LA until 2 weeks before hospitalisation. After an evaluation of her drug history, an autoimmune form of hypoglycaemia was suspected and the titre of insulin autoantibodies was found to be markedly elevated. This allowed us to diagnose LA-related IAS, thus preventing any unnecessary surgery and avoiding invasive diagnostic interventions.

Learning points:

  • IAS is a rare cause of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia that typically affects Asian population, but it has been increasingly recognised in Caucasian patients.

  • It should be considered among the differential diagnosis of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia to avoid unnecessary diagnostic investigations and surgery.

  • It should be suspected in the presence of very high serum insulin levels (100–10  000  μU/mL) associated with high C-peptide levels.

  • There is a strong association with administration of drugs containing sulphydryl groups included LA, a dietary supplement commonly used in Western countries to treat peripheral neuropathy.

Open access

D Cappellani, C Sardella, M C Campopiano, A Falorni, P Marchetti and E Macchia

Summary

Insulin autoimmune syndrome (IAS), or Hirata disease, is a rare hypoglycaemic disorder caused by the presence of high titer of insulin autoantibodies (IAA) in patients without previous exposure to exogenous insulin. Even though its pathogenesis is not fully understood, striking evidences link IAS to previous exposure to sulphydryl-containing medications, like alpha-lipoic acid, a widely used nutritional supplement. Although challenging, a careful differential diagnosis from other causes of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia (such as insulinoma) is mandatory, since these conditions require different therapeutic approaches. In the present study, we report a 35-year-old woman originally from Sri Lanka who was referred to our University Hospital on suspicion of occult insulinoma. Her medical history was positive for endometriosis, treated with estroprogestins and alpha-lipoic acid. The latter supplement was begun 2 weeks before the first hypoglycaemic episode. Our tests confirmed the presence of hypoglycaemia associated with high insulin and C-peptide concentrations. When insulin concentrations were compared using different assays, the results were significantly different. Moreover, insulin values significantly decreased after precipitation with polyethylene glycol. An assay for IAA proved positive (530 U/mL). A genetic analysis revealed the presence of HLA-DRB1*04,15, an immunogenetic determinant associated with IAS. On the basis of clinical data we avoided a first-line approach with immunosuppressive treatments, and the patient was advised to modify her diet, with the introduction of frequent low-caloric meals. During follow-up evaluations, glucose levels (registered trough a flash glucose monitoring system) resulted progressively more stable. IAA titer progressively decreased, being undetectable by the fifteenth month, thus indicating the remission of the IAS.

Learning points:

  • Insulin autoimmune syndrome (IAS) is a rare cause of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia, whose prevalence is higher in East Asian populations due to the higher prevalence of specific immunogenetic determinants. Nevertheless, an increasing number of IAS cases is being reported worldwide, due to the wide diffusion of medications such as alpha-lipoic acid.

  • Differential diagnosis of IAS from other causes of hyperinsulinemic hypoglycaemia is challenging. Even though many tests can be suggestive of IAS, the gold standard remains the detection of IAAs, despite that dedicated commercial kits are not widely available.

  • The therapeutic approach to IAS is problematic. As a matter of fact IAS is often a self-remitting disease, but sometimes needs aggressive immunosuppression. The benefits and risks of any therapeutic choice should be carefully weighted and tailored on the single patient.

Open access

Peter Novodvorsky, Emma Walkinshaw, Waliur Rahman, Valerie Gordon, Karen Towse, Sarah Mitchell, Dinesh Selvarajah, Priya Madhuvrata and Alia Munir

Summary

Bariatric surgery is an effective therapy for obesity but is associated with long-term complications such as dumping syndromes and nutritional deficiencies. We report a case of a 26-year-old caucasian female, with history of morbid obesity and gestational diabetes (GDM), who became pregnant 4 months after Roux-en-Y bypass surgery. She developed GDM during subsequent pregnancy, which was initially managed with metformin and insulin. Nocturnal hypoglycaemia causing sleep disturbance and daytime somnolence occured at 19 weeks of pregnancy (19/40). Treatment with rapid-acting carbohydrates precipitated further hypoglycaemia. Laboratory investigations confirmed hypoglycaemia at 2.2 mmol/L with appropriately low insulin and C-peptide, intact HPA axis and negative IgG insulin antibodies. The patient was seen regularly by the bariatric dietetic team but concerns about compliance persisted. A FreeStyle Libre system was used from 21/40 enabling the patient a real-time feedback of changes in interstitial glucose following high or low GI index food intake. The patient declined a trial of acarbose but consented to an intraveneous dextrose infusion overnight resulting in improvement but not complete abolishment of nocturnal hypoglycaemia. Hypoglycaemias subsided at 34/40 and metformin and insulin had to be re-introduced due to high post-prandial blood glucose readings. An emergency C-section was indicated at 35 + 1/40 and a small-for-gestational-age female was delivered. There have been no further episodes of hypoglycaemia following delivery. This case illustrates challenges in the management of pregnancy following bariatric surgery. To our knowledge, this is the first use of FreeStyle Libre in dumping syndrome in pregnancy following bariatric surgery with troublesome nocturnal hypoglycaemia.

Learning points:

  • Bariatric surgery represents the most effective treatment modality in cases of severe obesity. With increasing prevalence of obesity, more people are likely to undergo bariatric procedures, many of which are women of childbearing age.

  • Fertility generally improves after bariatric surgery due to weight reduction, but pregnancy is not recommended for at least 12–24 months after surgery. If pregnancy occurs, there are currently little evidence-based guidelines available on how to manage complications such as dumping syndromes or gestational diabetes (GDM) in women with history of bariatric surgery.

  • Diagnosis of GDM relies on the use of a 75 g oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). The use of this test in pregnant women is not recommended due to its potential to precipitate dumping syndrome. Capillary glucose monitoring profiles or continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) is being currently discussed as alternative testing modalities.

  • As the CGM technology becomes more available, including the recently introduced FreeStyle Libre Flash glucose monitoring system, more pregnant women, including those after bariatric surgery, will have access to this technology. We suggest urgent development of guidelines regarding the use of CGM and flash glucose monitoring tools in these circumstances and in the interim recommend careful consideration of their use on a case-to-case basis.

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

Pooja Sahni, Nitin Trivedi and Abdulkadir Omer

Summary

A 65-year-old obese Caucasian woman presented with symptomatic postprandial hypoglycemic episodes, resolution of symptoms with carbohydrate intake and significantly elevated anti-insulin antibody levels. She did not have any evidence for the use of oral antidiabetic medications, insulin, herbal substances, performing strenuous exercise or history of bariatric surgery. Fingerstick blood glucose readings revealed blood sugar of 35 mg/dL and 48 mg/dL, when she had these symptoms. Her medical history was significant for morbid obesity, hypothyroidism and gastro esophageal reflux disease. Her home medications included levothyroxine, propranolol and omeprazole. A blood sample obtained during the symptoms revealed the following: fingerstick blood sugar 38 mg/dL, venous blood glucose 60 mg/dL (normal (n): 70–99 mg/dL), serum insulin 202 IU/mL (n: <21), proinsulin 31.3 pmol/L (n: <28.9), C-peptide 8 ng/mL (n: 0.9–7), beta-hydroxybutyrate 0.12 mmol/L (n: 0.02–0.27) anti-insulin antibody >45.4 U/mL (n: <0.4). The result obtained while screening for serum sulfonylurea and meglitinides was negative. The repeated episodes of postprandial hypoglycemia associated with significantly elevated anti-insulin antibodies led to a diagnosis of insulin antibody syndrome (IAS). Significant improvement of hypoglycemic symptoms and lower anti-insulin antibody levels (33 U/mL) was noted on nutritional management during the following 6 months. Based on a report of pantoprazole-related IAS cases, her omeprazole was switched to a H2 receptor blocker. She reported only two episodes of hypoglycemia, and anti-insulin antibody levels were significantly lower at 10 U/mL after the following 12-month follow-up.

Learning points:

  • Initial assessment of the Whipple criteria is critical to establish the clinical diagnosis of hypoglycemia accurately.

  • Blood sugar monitoring with fingerstick blood glucose method can provide important information during hypoglycemia workup.

  • Autoimmune hypoglycemia is a rare cause of hypoglycemia, which can be diagnosed on high index of clinical suspicion and systematic evaluation.

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