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Open access

Joanna Prokop, João Estorninho, Sara Marote, Teresa Sabino, Aida Botelho de Sousa, Eduardo Silva and Ana Agapito

Summary

POEMS syndrome (Polyneuropathy, Organomegaly, Endocrinopathy, Monoclonal protein and Skin changes) is a rare multisystemic disease. Clinical presentation is variable, the only mandatory criteria being polyneuropathy and monoclonal gammapathy in association with one major and one minor criterion. Primary adrenal insufficiency is rarely reported. We describe a case of a 33-year-old patient, in whom the presenting symptoms were mandibular mass, chronic sensory-motor peripheral polyneuropathy and adrenal insufficiency. The laboratory evaluation revealed thrombocytosis, severe hyperkalemia with normal renal function, normal protein electrophoresis and negative serum immunofixation for monoclonal protein. Endocrinologic laboratory work-up confirmed Addison’s disease and revealed subclinical primary hypothyroidism. Thoracic abdominal CT showed hepatosplenomegaly, multiple sclerotic lesions in thoracic vertebra and ribs. The histopathologic examination of the mandibular mass was nondiagnostic. Bone marrow biopsy revealed plasma cell dyscrasia and confirmed POEMS syndrome. Axillary lymphadenopathy biopsy: Castleman’s disease. Gluco-mineralocorticoid substitution and levothyroxine therapy were started with clinical improvement. Autologous hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) was planned, cyclophosphamide induction was started. Meanwhile the patient suffered two ischemic strokes which resulted in aphasia and hemiparesis. Cerebral angiography revealed vascular lesions compatible with vasculitis and stenosis of two cerebral arteries. The patient deceased 14 months after the diagnosis. The young age at presentation, multiplicity of manifestations and difficulties in investigation along with the absence of serum monoclonal protein made the diagnosis challenging. We report this case to highlight the need to consider POEMS syndrome in differential diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy in association with endocrine abnormalities even in young patients.

Learning points:

  • POEMS syndrome is considered a ‘low tumor burden disease’ and the monoclonal protein in 15% of cases is not found by immunofixation.

  • Neuropathy is the dominant characteristic of POEMS syndrome and it is peripheral, ascending, symmetric and affecting both sensation and motor function.

  • Endocrinopathies are a frequent feature of POEMS syndrome, but the cause is unknown.

  • The most common endocrinopathies are hypogonadism, primary hypothyroidism and abnormalities in glucose metabolism.

  • There is no standard therapy; however, patients with disseminated bone marrow involvement are treated with chemotherapy with or without HCT.

Open access

Bidhya Timilsina, Niranjan Tachamo, Prem Raj Parajuli and Ilan Gabriely

Summary

A 74-year-old woman presented with progressive lethargy, confusion, poor appetite and abdominal pain. She was found to have non-PTH-mediated severe hypercalcemia with renal failure and metabolic alkalosis. Extensive workup for hypercalcemia to rule out alternate etiology was unrevealing. Upon further questioning, she was taking excess calcium carbonate (Tums) for her worsening heartburn. She was diagnosed with milk-alkali syndrome (MAS). Her hypercalcemia and alkalosis recovered completely with aggressive hydration along with improvement in her renal function. High index of suspicion should be maintained and history of drug and supplements, especially calcium ingestion, should be routinely asked in patients presenting with hypercalcemia to timely diagnose MAS and prevent unnecessary tests and treatments.

Learning points:

  • Suspect milk-alkali syndrome in patients with hypercalcemia, metabolic alkalosis and renal failure, especially in context of ingestion of excess calcium-containing supplements.

  • Careful history of over-the-counter medications, supplements and diet is crucial to diagnose milk-alkali syndrome.

  • Milk-alkali syndrome may cause severe hypercalcemia in up to 25–30% of cases.

Open access

Elizabeth M Madill, Shamil D Cooray and Leon A Bach

Summary

Thyrotoxicosis is an under-recognised but clinically important complication of parathyroidectomy. We report a case of a 37-year-old man with tertiary hyperparathyroidism who initially developed unexplained anxiety, diaphoresis, tachycardia, tremor and hyperreflexia one day after subtotal parathyroidectomy. Thyroid biochemistry revealed suppressed thyroid stimulating hormone and elevated serum free T4 and free T3 levels. Technetium-99m scintigraphy scan confirmed diffusely decreased radiotracer uptake consistent with thyroiditis. The patient was diagnosed with thyrotoxicosis resulting from palpation thyroiditis. Administration of oral beta-adrenergic antagonists alleviated his symptoms and there was biochemical evidence of resolution fourteen days later. This case illustrates the need to counsel patients about thyroiditis as one of the potential risks of parathyroid surgery. It also emphasises the need for biochemical surveillance in patients with unexplained symptoms in the post-operative period and may help to minimise further invasive investigations for diagnostic clarification.

Learning points

  • Thyroiditis as a complication of parathyroidectomy surgery is uncommon but represents an under-recognised phenomenon.

  • It is thought to occur due to mechanical damage of thyroid follicles by vigorous palpation.

  • Palpation of the thyroid gland may impair the physical integrity of the follicular basement membrane, with consequent development of an inflammatory response.

  • The majority of patients are asymptomatic, however clinically significant thyrotoxicosis occurs in a minority.

  • Patients should be advised of thyroiditis/thyrotoxicosis as a potential complication of the procedure.

  • Testing of thyroid function should be performed if clinically indicated, particularly if adrenergic symptoms occur post-operatively with no other cause identified.

Open access

Avinash Suryawanshi, Timothy Middleton and Kirtan Ganda

Summary

X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD) is a rare genetic condition caused by mutations in the ABCD1 gene that result in accumulation of very long chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) in various tissues. This leads to demyelination in the CNS and impaired steroidogenesis in the adrenal cortex and testes. A 57-year-old gentleman was referred for the assessment of bilateral gynaecomastia of 6 months duration. He had skin hyperpigmentation since 4 years of age and spastic paraparesis for the past 15 years. Physical examination findings included generalised hyperpigmentation (including skin, buccal mucosa and palmar creases), blood pressure of 90/60 mmHg, non-tender gynaecomastia and bilateral hypoplastic testes. Lower limb findings were those of a profoundly ataxic gait associated with significant paraparesis and sensory loss. Primary adrenal insufficiency was confirmed and investigations for gynaecomastia revealed normal testosterone with mildly elevated luteinising hormone level and normal prolactin. The combination of primary adrenal insufficiency (likely childhood onset), partial testicular failure (leading to gynaecomastia) and spastic paraparesis suggested X-ALD as a unifying diagnosis. A serum VLCFA panel was consistent with X-ALD. Subsequent genetic testing confirmed the diagnosis. Treatment with replacement doses of corticosteroid resulted in improvement in blood pressure and increased energy levels. We have reported the case of a 57-year-old man with a very late diagnosis of X-ALD manifested by childhood onset of primary adrenal insufficiency followed by paraparesis and primary hypogonadism in adulthood. Thus, X-ALD should be considered as a possibility in a patient with non-autoimmune primary adrenal insufficiency and neurological abnormalities.

Learning points

  • Adult patients with X-ALD may be misdiagnosed as having multiple sclerosis or idiopathic spastic paraparesis for many years before the correct diagnosis is identified.

  • Screening for X-ALD with a VLCFA panel should be strongly considered in male children with primary adrenal insufficiency and in male adults presenting with non-autoimmune primary adrenal insufficiency.

  • Confirmation of a genetic diagnosis of X-ALD can be very useful for a patient's family as genetic testing enables detection of pre-symptomatic female heterozygotes who can then be offered pre-natal testing to avoid transmission of the disease to male offsprings.