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Open access

Su Ann Tee, Earn Hui Gan, Mohamad Zaher Kanaan, David Ashley Price, Tim Hoare and Simon H S Pearce

Summary

Primary adrenal insufficiency secondary to syphilis is extremely rare, with only five cases being reported in the literature. We report a case of adrenal insufficiency as a manifestation of Treponema pallidum infection (tertiary syphilis). A 69-year-old, previously fit and well Caucasian male was found to have adrenal insufficiency after being admitted with weight loss, anorexia and postural dizziness resulting in a fall. Biochemical testing showed hyponatraemia, hyperkalaemia, and an inadequate response to Synacthen testing, with a peak cortisol level of 302 nmol/L after administration of 250 µg Synacthen. Abdominal imaging revealed bilateral adrenal hyperplasia with inguinal and retroperitoneal lymphadenopathy. He was started on hydrocortisone replacement; however, it was not until he re-attended ophthalmology with a red eye and visual loss 1 month later, that further work-up revealed the diagnosis of tertiary syphilis. Following a course of penicillin, repeat imaging 5 months later showed resolution of the abnormal radiological appearances. However, adrenal function has not recovered and 3 years following initial presentation, the patient remains on both glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement. In conclusion, this case highlights the importance of considering syphilis as a potential differential diagnosis in patients presenting with adrenal insufficiency and bilateral adrenal masses, given the recent re-emergence of this condition. The relative ease of treating infectious causes of adrenal lesions makes accurate and timely diagnosis crucial.

Learning points:

  • Infectious causes, including syphilis, should be excluded before considering adrenalectomy or biopsy for any patient presenting with an adrenal mass.

  • It is important to perform a full infection screen including tests for human immunodeficiency virus, other blood-borne viruses and concurrent sexually transmitted diseases in patients presenting with bilateral adrenal hyperplasia with primary adrenal insufficiency.

  • Awareness of syphilis as a potential differential diagnosis is important, as it not only has a wide range of clinical presentations, but its prevalence has been increasing in recent times.

Open access

Tess Jacob, Renee Garrick and Michael D Goldberg

Summary

Metformin is recommended as the first-line agent for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Although this drug has a generally good safety profile, rare but potentially serious adverse effects may occur. Metformin-associated lactic acidosis, although very uncommon, carries a significant risk of mortality. The relationship between metformin accumulation and lactic acidosis is complex and is affected by the presence of comorbid conditions such as renal and hepatic disease. Plasma metformin levels do not reliably correlate with the severity of lactic acidosis. We present a case of inadvertent metformin overdose in a patient with both renal failure and hepatic cirrhosis, leading to two episodes of lactic acidosis and hypoglycemia. The patient was successfully treated with hemodialysis both times and did not develop any further lactic acidosis or hypoglycemia, after the identification of metformin tablets accidentally mixed in with his supply of sevelamer tablets. Early initiation of renal replacement therapy is key in decreasing lactic acidosis-associated mortality.

Learning points:

  • When a toxic ingestion is suspected, direct visualization of the patient’s pills is advised in order to rule out the possibility of patient- or pharmacist-related medication errors.

  • Though sending a specimen for determination of the plasma metformin concentration is important when a metformin-treated patient with diabetes presents with lactic acidosis, complex relationships exist between metformin accumulation, hyperlactatemia and acidosis, and the drug may not always be the precipitating factor.

  • Intermittent hemodialysis is recommended as the first-line treatment for metformin-associated lactic acidosis (MALA).

  • An investigational delayed-release form of metformin with reduced systemic absorption may carry a lower risk for MALA in patients with renal insufficiency, in whom metformin therapy may presently be contraindicated.