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Open access

Isabella Lupi, Alessandro Brancatella, Mirco Cosottini, Nicola Viola, Giulia Lanzolla, Daniele Sgrò, Giulia Di Dalmazi, Francesco Latrofa, Patrizio Caturegli and Claudio Marcocci

Summary

Programmed cell death protein 1/programmed cell death protein ligand 1 (PD-1/PD-L1) and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4/B7 (CTLA-4/B7) pathways are key regulators in T-cell activation and tolerance. Nivolumab, pembrolizumab (PD-1 inhibitors), atezolizumab (PD-L1 inhibitor) and ipilimumab (CTLA-4 inhibitor) are monoclonal antibodies approved for treatment of several advanced cancers. Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs)-related hypophysitis is described more frequently in patients treated with anti-CTLA-4; however, recent studies reported an increasing prevalence of anti-PD-1/PD-L1-induced hypophysitis which also exhibits slightly different clinical features. We report our experience on hypophysitis induced by anti-PD-1/anti-PD-L1 treatment. We present four cases, diagnosed in the past 12 months, of hypophysitis occurring in two patients receiving anti-PD-1, in one patient receiving anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA-4 combined therapy and in one patient receiving anti-PD-L1. In this case series, timing, clinical presentation and association with other immune-related adverse events appeared to be extremely variable; central hypoadrenalism and hyponatremia were constantly detected although sellar magnetic resonance imaging did not reveal specific signs of pituitary inflammation. These differences highlight the complexity of ICI-related hypophysitis and the existence of different mechanisms of action leading to heterogeneity of clinical presentation in patients receiving immunotherapy.

Learning points:

  • PD-1/PD-L1 blockade can induce hypophysitis with a different clinical presentation when compared to CTLA-4 blockade.
  • Diagnosis of PD-1/PD-L1 induced hypophysitis is mainly made on clinical grounds and sellar MRI does not show radiological abnormalities.
  • Hyponatremia due to acute secondary adrenal insufficiency is often the principal sign of PD-1/PD-L1-induced hypophysitis and can be masked by other symptoms due to oncologic disease.
  • PD-1/PD-L1-induced hypophysitis can present as an isolated manifestation of irAEs or be in association with other autoimmune diseases
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

C Kamath, J Witczak, M A Adlan and L D Premawardhana

Summary

Thymic enlargement (TE) in Graves’ disease (GD) is often diagnosed incidentally when chest imaging is done for unrelated reasons. This is becoming more common as the frequency of chest imaging increases. There are currently no clear guidelines for managing TE in GD. Subject 1 is a 36-year-old female who presented with weight loss, increased thirst and passage of urine and postural symptoms. Investigations confirmed GD, non-PTH-dependent hypercalcaemia and Addison’s disease (AD). CT scans to exclude underlying malignancy showed TE but normal viscera. A diagnosis of hypercalcaemia due to GD and AD was made. Subject 2, a 52-year-old female, was investigated for recurrent chest infections, haemoptysis and weight loss. CT thorax to exclude chest malignancy, showed TE. Planned thoracotomy was postponed when investigations confirmed GD. Subject 3 is a 47-year-old female who presented with breathlessness, chest pain and shakiness. Investigations confirmed T3 toxicosis due to GD. A CT pulmonary angiogram to exclude pulmonary embolism showed TE. The CT appearances in all three subjects were consistent with benign TE. These subjects were given appropriate endocrine treatment only (without biopsy or thymectomy) as CT appearances showed the following appearances of benign TE – arrowhead shape, straight regular margins, absence of calcification and cyst formation and radiodensity equal to surrounding muscle. Furthermore, interval scans confirmed thymic regression of over 60% in 6 months after endocrine control. In subjects with CT appearances consistent with benign TE, a conservative policy with interval CT scans at 6 months after endocrine control will prevent inappropriate surgical intervention.

Learning points:

  • Chest imaging is common in modern clinical practice and incidental anterior mediastinal abnormalities are therefore diagnosed frequently.
  • Thymic enlargement (TE) associated with Graves’ disease (GD) is occasionally seen in view of the above.
  • There is no validated strategy to manage TE in GD at present.
  • However, CT (or MRI) scan features of the thymus may help characterise benign TE, and such subjects do not require thymic biopsy or surgery at presentation.
  • In them, an expectant ‘wait and see’ policy is recommended with GD treatment only, as the thymus will show significant regression 6 months after endocrine control.
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

Diana Oliveira, Adriana Lages, Sandra Paiva and Francisco Carrilho

Summary

Addison’s disease, or primary adrenocortical insufficiency, is a long-term, potentially severe, rare endocrine disorder. In pregnancy, it is even rarer. We report the case of a 30-year-old pregnant patient with Addison’s disease, referred to Obstetrics-Endocrinology specialty consult at 14 weeks gestation. She had been to the emergency department of her local hospital various times during the first trimester presenting with a clinical scenario suggestive of glucocorticoid under-replacement (nausea, persistent vomiting and hypotension), but this was interpreted as normal pregnancy symptoms. Hydrocortisone dose was adjusted, and the patient maintained regular follow-up. No complications were reported for the remainder of gestation and delivery. Pregnant patients with Addison’s disease should be monitored during gestation and in the peripartum period by multidisciplinary teams. Adjustments in glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement therapy are often necessary, and monitoring should be based mainly on clinical findings, which becomes increasingly difficult during pregnancy. Patient education and specialized monitoring are key to avoiding complications from under- or over-replacement therapy in this period.

Learning points:

  • An increase in glucocorticoid replacement dose is expected to be necessary during pregnancy in a woman with Addison’s disease.
  • Patient education regarding steroid cover and symptoms of acute adrenal crisis are fundamental.
  • Monitoring in this period is challenging and remains mainly clinical.
  • The increase in hydrocortisone dose often obviates the need to increase fludrocortisone dose.
Open access

Lukas Burget, Laura Audí Parera, Monica Fernandez-Cancio, Rolf Gräni, Christoph Henzen and Christa E Flück

Summary

Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (STAR) is a key protein for the intracellular transport of cholesterol to the mitochondrium in endocrine organs (e.g. adrenal gland, ovaries, testes) and essential for the synthesis of all steroid hormones. Several mutations have been described and the clinical phenotype varies strongly and may be grouped into classic lipoid congenital adrenal hyperplasia (LCAH), in which all steroidogenesis is disrupted, and non-classic LCAH, which resembles familial glucocorticoid deficiency (FGD), which affects predominantly adrenal functions. Classic LCAH is characterized by early and potentially life-threatening manifestation of primary adrenal insufficiency (PAI) with electrolyte disturbances and 46,XY disorder of sex development (DSD) in males as well as lack of pubertal development in both sexes. Non-classic LCAH manifests usually later in life with PAI. Nevertheless, life-long follow-up of gonadal function is warranted. We describe a 26-year-old female patient who was diagnosed with PAI early in life without detailed diagnostic work-up. At the age of 14 months, she presented with hyperpigmentation, elevated ACTH and low cortisol levels. As her older brother was diagnosed with PAI two years earlier, she was put on hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone replacement therapy before an Addisonian crisis occurred. Upon review of her case in adulthood, consanguinity was noted in the family. Genetic analysis for PAI revealed a homozygous mutation in the STAR gene (c.562C>T, p.Arg188Cys) in both siblings. This mutation has been previously described in non-classic LCAH. This case illustrates that early onset, familial PAI is likely due to autosomal recessive genetic mutations in known genes causing PAI.

Learning points:

  • In childhood-onset PAI, a genetic cause is most likely, especially in families with consanguinity.
  • Adult patients with an etiologically unsolved PAI should be reviewed repeatedly and genetic work-up should be considered.
  • Knowing the exact genetic diagnosis in PAI is essential for genetic counselling and may allow disease-specific treatment.
  • Young men and women with NCLAH due to homozygous STAR Arg188Cys mutation should be investigated for their gonadal function as hypogonadism and infertility might occur during puberty or in early adulthood.
Open access

Nicholas R Zessis, Jennifer L Nicholas and Stephen I Stone

Summary

Bilateral adrenal hemorrhages rarely occur during the neonatal period and are often associated with traumatic vaginal deliveries. However, the adrenal gland has highly regenerative capabilities and adrenal insufficiency typically resolves over time. We evaluated a newborn female after experiencing fetal macrosomia and a traumatic vaginal delivery. She developed acidosis and acute renal injury. Large adrenal hemorrhages were noted bilaterally on ultrasound, and she was diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency based on characteristic electrolyte changes and a low cortisol (4.2 µg/dL). On follow-up testing, this patient was unable to be weaned off of hydrocortisone or fludrocortisone despite resolution of hemorrhages on ultrasound. Providers should consider bilateral adrenal hemorrhage when evaluating critically ill neonates after a traumatic delivery. In extreme cases, this may be a persistent process.

Learning points:

  • Risk factors for adrenal hemorrhage include fetal macrosomia, traumatic vaginal delivery and critical acidemia.
  • Signs of adrenal hemorrhage include jaundice, flank mass, skin discoloration or scrotal hematoma.
  • Adrenal insufficiency often is a transient process when related to adrenal hemorrhage.
  • Severe adrenal hemorrhages can occur in the absence of symptoms.
  • Though rare, persistent adrenal insufficiency may occur in extremely severe cases of bilateral adrenal hemorrhage.
  • Consider adrenal hemorrhage when evaluating a neonate for shock in the absence of an infectious etiology.
Open access

Andromachi Vryonidou, Stavroula A Paschou, Fotini Dimitropoulou, Panagiotis Anagnostis, Vasiliki Tzavara and Apostolos Katsivas

Summary

We describe a case of a 40-year-old woman who was admitted to the intensive care unit with a rapid onset of dyspnea and orthopnea. She presented progressive weakness, weight loss and secondary amenorrhea during last year, while intermittent fever was present for the last two months. Initial biochemical evaluation showed anemia, hyponatremia and increased C-reactive protein levels. Clinical and echocardiographic evaluation revealed cardiac tamponade, which was treated with pericardiocentesis. Pleural fluid samples were negative for malignancy, tuberculosis or bacterial infection. Hormonal and serologic evaluation led to the diagnosis of autoimmune polyglandular syndrome (APS) type 2 (including primary adrenal insufficiency and autoimmune thyroiditis), possibly coexisting with systemic lupus erythematosus. After symptomatic rheumatologic treatment followed by replacement therapy with hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone, the patient fully recovered. In patients with the combination of polyserositis, cardiac tamponade and persistent hyponatremia, possible coexistence of rheumatologic and autoimmune endocrine disease, mainly adrenal insufficiency, should be considered. Early diagnosis and non-invasive treatment can be life-saving.

Learning points:

  • In patients with the combination of polyserositis, cardiac tamponade and persistent hyponatremia, possible coexistence of rheumatologic and autoimmune endocrine disease, mainly adrenal insufficiency, should be considered.
  • Early diagnosis and non-invasive treatment can be life-saving for these patients.
  • Primary adrenal insufficiency requires lifelong replacement therapy with oral administration of 15–25 mg hydrocortisone in split doses and 50–200 µg fludrocortisone once daily.
Open access

Anna Kopczak, Adrian-Minh Schumacher, Sandra Nischwitz, Tania Kümpfel, Günter K Stalla and Matthias K Auer

Summary

The autoimmune polyendocrinopathy–candidiasis–ectodermal dystrophy (APECED) syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation in the autoimmune regulator (AIRE) gene. Immune deficiency, hypoparathyroidism and Addison’s disease due to autoimmune dysfunction are the major clinical signs of APECED. We report on a 21-year-old female APECED patient with two inactivating mutations in the AIRE gene. She presented with sudden onset of periodic nausea. Adrenal insufficiency was diagnosed by means of the ACTH stimulation test. Despite initiation of hormone replacement therapy with hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone, nausea persisted and the patient developed cognitive deficits and a loss of interest which led to the diagnosis of depression. She was admitted to the psychiatric department for further diagnostic assessment. An EEG showed a focal epileptic pattern. Glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) antibodies, which had been negative eight years earlier, were now elevated in serum and in the cerebrospinal fluid. Oligoclonal bands were positive indicating an inflammatory process with intrathecal antibody production in the central nervous system (CNS). The periodic nausea was identified as dialeptic seizures, which clinically presented as gastrointestinal aura followed by episodes of reduced consciousness that occurred about 3–4 times per day. GAD antibody-associated limbic encephalitis (LE) was diagnosed. Besides antiepileptic therapy, an immunosuppressive treatment with corticosteroids was initiated followed by azathioprine. The presence of nausea and vomiting in endocrine patients with autoimmune disorders is indicative of adrenal insufficiency. However, our case report shows that episodic nausea may be a symptom of epileptic seizures due to GAD antibodies-associated LE in patients with APECED.

Learning points:

  • Episodic nausea cannot only be a sign of Addison’s disease, but can also be caused by epileptic seizures with gastrointestinal aura due to limbic encephalitis.
  • GAD antibodies are not only found in diabetes mellitus type 1, but they are also associated with autoimmune limbic encephalitis and can appear over time.
  • Limbic encephalitis can be another manifestation of autoimmune disease in patients with APECED/APS-1 that presents over the time course of the disease.
Open access

Teresa Rego, Fernando Fonseca, Stéphanie Espiard, Karine Perlemoine, Jérôme Bertherat and Ana Agapito

Summary

PBMAH is a rare etiology of Cushing syndrome (CS). Familial clustering suggested a genetic cause that was recently confirmed, after identification of inactivating germline mutations in armadillo repeat-containing 5 (ARMC5) gene. A 70-year-old female patient was admitted due to left femoral neck fracture in May 2014, in Orthopedics Department. During hospitalization, hypertension (HTA) and hypokalemia were diagnosed. She presented with clinical signs of hypercortisolism and was transferred to the Endocrinology ward for suspected CS. Laboratory workup revealed: ACTH <5 pg/mL; urinary free cortisol (UFC), 532 µg/24 h (normal range: 20–90); failure to suppress the low-dose dexamethasone test (0.5 mg every 6 h for 48 h): cortisol 21 µg/dL. Abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed enlarged nodular adrenals (right, 55 × 54 × 30 mm; left, 85 × 53 × 35 mm), and she was submitted to bilateral adrenalectomy. In 2006, this patient’s 39-year-old daughter had been treated by one of the authors. She presented with severe clinical and biological hypercortisolism. Computed tomography (CT) scan showed massively enlarged nodular adrenals with maximal axis of 15 cm for both. Bilateral adrenalectomy was performed. In this familial context of PBMAH, genetic study was performed. Leucocyte DNA genotyping identified in both patients the same germline heterozygous ARMC5 mutation in exon 1 c.172_173insA p.I58Nfs*45. The clinical cases herein described have an identical phenotype with severe hypercortisolism and huge adrenal glands, but different ages at the time of diagnosis. Current knowledge of inheritance of this disease, its insidious nature and the well-known deleterious effect of hypercortisolism favor genetic study to timely identify and treat these patients.

Learning points:

  • PBMAH is a rare etiology of CS, characterized by functioning adrenal macronodules and variable cortisol secretion.
  • The asymmetric/asynchronous involvement of only one adrenal gland can also occur, making disease diagnosis a challenge.
  • Familial clustering suggests a genetic cause that was recently confirmed, after identification of inactivating germline mutations in armadillo repeat-containing 5 (ARMC5) gene.
  • The insidious nature of this disease and the well-known deleterious effect of hypercortisolism favor genetic study of other family members, to diagnose and treat these patients timely.
  • As ARMC5 is expressed in many organs and recent findings suggest an association of PBMAH and meningioma, a watchful follow-up is required.