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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

Harish Venugopal, Katherine Griffin and Saima Amer

Summary

Resection of primary tumour is the management of choice in patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome. However, tumours may remain unidentified or occult in spite of extensive efforts at trying to locate them. This can, therefore, pose a major management issue as uncontrolled hypercortisolaemia can lead to life-threatening infections. We present the case of a 66-year-old gentleman with ectopic ACTH syndrome from an occult primary tumour with multiple significant complications from hypercortisolaemia. Ectopic nature of his ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome was confirmed by non-suppression with high-dose dexamethasone suppression test and bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling. The primary ectopic source remained unidentified in spite of extensive anatomical and functional imaging studies, including CT scans and Dotatate-PET scan. Medical adrenolytic treatment at maximum tolerated doses failed to control his hypercortisolaemia, which led to recurrent intra-abdominal and pelvic abscesses, requiring multiple surgical interventions. Laparoscopic bilateral adrenalectomy was considered but decided against given concerns of technical difficulties due to recurrent intra-abdominal infections and his moribund state. Eventually, alcohol ablation of adrenal glands by retrograde adrenal vein approach was attempted, which resulted in biochemical remission of Cushing's syndrome. Our case emphasizes the importance of aggressive management of hypercortisolaemia in order to reduce the associated morbidity and mortality and also demonstrates that techniques like percutaneous adrenal ablation using a retrograde venous approach may be extremely helpful in patients who are otherwise unable to undergo bilateral adrenalectomy.

Learning points

  • Evaluation and management of patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome from an unidentified primary tumour can be very challenging.

  • Persisting hypercortisolaemia in this setting can lead to debilitating and even life-threatening complications and hence needs to be managed aggressively.

  • Bilateral adrenalectomy should be considered when medical treatment is ineffective or poorly tolerated.

  • Percutaneous adrenal ablation may be considered in patients who are otherwise unable to undergo bilateral adrenalectomy.

Open access

M Baxter, S Gorick and F M Swords

Summary

Addison's disease is a condition characterised by immune-mediated destruction of the adrenal glands leading to a requirement of lifelong replacement therapy with mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid. We present a case of a 53-year-old man who presented at the age of 37 years with nausea, fatigue and dizziness. He was found to have postural hypotension and buccal pigmentation. His presenting cortisol level was 43 nmol/l with no response to Synacthen testing. He made an excellent response to conventional replacement therapy with hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone and then remained well for 16 years. On registering with a new endocrinologist, his hydrocortisone dose was revised downwards and pre- and post-dose serum cortisol levels were assessed. His pre-dose cortisol was surprisingly elevated, and so his dose was further reduced. Subsequent Synacthen testing was normal and has remained so for further 12 months. He is now asymptomatic without glucocorticoid therapy, although he continues on fludrocortisone 50 μg daily. His adrenal antibodies are positive, although his ACTH and renin levels remain elevated after treatment. Addison's disease is generally deemed to lead to irreversible cell-mediated immune destruction of the adrenal glands. For this reason, patients receive detailed counselling and education on the need for lifelong replacement therapy. To our knowledge, this is the third reported case of spontaneous recovery of the adrenal axis in Addison's disease. Recovery may therefore be more common than previously appreciated, which may have major implications for the treatment and monitoring of this condition, and for the education given to patients at diagnosis.

Learning points

  • Partial recovery from Addison's disease is possible although uncommon.

  • Patients with long-term endocrine conditions on replacement therapy still benefit from regular clinical and biochemical assessment, to revisit optimal management.

  • As further reports of adrenal axis recovery emerge, this may influence the counselling given to patients with Addison's disease in the future.