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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

M Nwokolo and J Fletcher

Summary

A 46-year-old woman presented multiple times in a 4-month period with hypotension, sepsis, hypoglycaemia and psychosis. A low random cortisol in combination with her presenting complaint made adrenal insufficiency the likely diagnosis. Fluid resuscitation and i.v. steroid therapy led to clinical improvement; however, a short synacthen test (SST) demonstrated an apparently satisfactory cortisol response. The test was repeated on a later admission and revealed a peak cortisol level of 25 nmol/l (>550 nmol/l). Concurrent treatment with i.v. hydrocortisone had led to a false-negative SST. ACTH was <5 ng/l (>10 ng/l), indicating secondary adrenal failure. We discuss the challenges surrounding the diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency and hypopituitarism, the rare complication of psychosis and a presumptive diagnosis of autoimmune lymphocytic hypophysitis (ALH).

Learning points

  • Adrenocortical insufficiency must be considered in the shocked, hypovolaemic and hypoglycaemic patient with electrolyte imbalance. Rapid treatment with fluid resuscitation and i.v. corticosteroids is vital.

  • Polymorphic presentations to multiple specialities are common. Generalised myalgia, abdominal pain and delirium are well recognised, psychosis is rare.

  • A random cortisol can be taken with baseline bloods. Once the patient is stable, meticulous dynamic testing must follow to confirm the clinical diagnosis.

  • The chronic disease progression of ALH is hypothesised to be expansion then atrophy of the pituitary gland resulting in empty sella turcica and hypopituitarism.

  • If hypopituitarism is suspected, an ACTH deficiency should be treated prior to commencing thyroxine (T4) therapy as unopposed T4 may worsen features of cortisol deficiency.