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Open access

Rachel Wurth, Crystal Kamilaris, Naris Nilubol, Samira M Sadowski, Annabel Berthon, Martha M Quezado, Fabio R Faucz, Constantine A Stratakis and Fady Hannah-Shmouni

Summary

Primary bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (PBMAH) is a rare cause of ACTH-independent Cushing syndrome (CS). This condition is characterized by glucocorticoid and/or mineralocorticoid excess, and is commonly regulated by aberrant G-protein coupled receptor expression may be subclinical, allowing the disease to progress for years undetected. Inhibin A is a glycoprotein hormone and tumor marker produced by certain endocrine glands including the adrenal cortex, which has not been previously investigated as a potential tumor marker for PBMAH. In the present report, serum inhibin A levels were evaluated in three patients with PBMAH before and after adrenalectomy. In all cases, serum inhibin A was elevated preoperatively and subsequently fell within the normal range after adrenalectomy. Additionally, adrenal tissues stained positive for inhibin A. We conclude that serum inhibin A levels may be a potential tumor marker for PBMAH.

Learning points:

  • PBMAH is a rare cause of CS.
  • PBMAH may have an insidious presentation, allowing the disease to progress for years prior to diagnosis.
  • Inhibin A is a heterodimeric glycoprotein hormone expressed in the gonads and adrenal cortex.
  • Inhibin A serum concentrations are elevated in some patients with PBMAH, suggesting the potential use of this hormone as a tumor marker.
  • Further exploration of serum inhibin A concentration, as it relates to PBMAH disease progression, is warranted to determine if this hormone could serve as an early detection marker and/or predictor of successful surgical treatment.
Open access

Sofia Pilar Ildefonso-Najarro, Esteban Alberto Plasencia-Dueñas, Cesar Joel Benites-Moya, Jose Carrion-Rojas and Marcio Jose Concepción-Zavaleta

Summary

Cushing’s syndrome is an endocrine disorder that causes anovulatory infertility secondary to hypercortisolism; therefore, pregnancy rarely occurs during its course. We present the case of a 24-year-old, 16-week pregnant female with a 10-month history of unintentional weight gain, dorsal gibbus, nonpruritic comedones, hirsutism and hair loss. Initial biochemical, hormonal and ultrasound investigations revealed hypokalemia, increased nocturnal cortisolemia and a right adrenal mass. The patient had persistent high blood pressure, hyperglycemia and hypercortisolemia. She was initially treated with antihypertensive medications and insulin therapy. Endogenous Cushing’s syndrome was confirmed by an abdominal MRI that demonstrated a right adrenal adenoma. The patient underwent right laparoscopic adrenalectomy and anatomopathological examination revealed an adrenal adenoma with areas of oncocytic changes. Finally, antihypertensive medication was progressively reduced and glycemic control and hypokalemia reversal were achieved. Long-term therapy consisted of low-dose daily prednisone. During follow-up, despite favorable outcomes regarding the patient’s Cushing’s syndrome, stillbirth was confirmed at 28 weeks of pregnancy. We discuss the importance of early diagnosis and treatment of Cushing’s syndrome to prevent severe maternal and fetal complications.

Learning points:

  • Pregnancy can occur, though rarely, during the course of Cushing’s syndrome.
  • Pregnancy is a transient physiological state of hypercortisolism and it must be differentiated from Cushing’s syndrome based on clinical manifestations and laboratory tests.
  • The diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy may be challenging, particularly in the second and third trimesters because of the changes in the maternal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
  • Pregnancy during the course of Cushing’s syndrome is associated with severe maternal and fetal complications; therefore, its early diagnosis and treatment is critical.
Open access

Shamaila Zaman, Bijal Patel, Paul Glynne, Mark Vanderpump, Ali Alsafi, Sairah Khan, Rashpal Flora, Fausto Palazzo and Florian Wernig

Summary

Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production is an uncommon cause of Cushing’s syndrome and, rarely, the source can be a phaeochromocytoma. A 55-year-old man presented following an episode of presumed gastroenteritis with vomiting and general malaise. Further episodes of diarrhoea, joint pains and palpitations followed. On examination, he was hypertensive with no clinical features to suggest hypercortisolaemia. He was subsequently found to have raised plasma normetanephrines of 3.98 nmol/L (NR <0.71) and metanephrines of 0.69 nmol/L (NR <0.36). An adrenal CT showed a 3.8 cm right adrenal nodule, which was not MIBG-avid but was clinically and biochemically consistent with a phaeochromocytoma. He was started on alpha blockade and referred for right adrenalectomy. Four weeks later, on the day of admission for adrenalectomy, profound hypokalaemia was noted (serum potassium 2.0 mmol/L) with non-specific ST-segment ECG changes. He was also diagnosed with new-onset diabetes mellitus (capillary blood glucose of 28 mmol/L). He reported to have gained weight and his skin had become darker over the course of the last 4 weeks. Given these findings, he underwent overnight dexamethasone suppression testing, which showed a non-suppressed serum cortisol of 1099 nmol/L. Baseline serum ACTH was 273 ng/L. A preliminary diagnosis of ectopic ACTH secretion from the known right-sided phaeochromocytoma was made and he was started on metyrapone and insulin. Surgery was postponed for 4 weeks. Following uncomplicated laparoscopic adrenalectomy, the patient recovered with full resolution of symptoms.

Learning points:

  • Phaeochromocytomas are a rare source of ectopic ACTH secretion. A high clinical index of suspicion is therefore required to make the diagnosis.
  • Ectopic ACTH secretion from a phaeochromocytoma can rapidly progress to severe Cushing’s syndrome, thus complicating tumour removal.
  • Removal of the primary tumour often leads to full recovery.
  • The limited literature suggests that the presence of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome does not appear to have any long-term prognostic implications.
Open access

Alessandro Rossini, Francesca Perticone, Laura Frosio, Marco Schiavo Lena and Roberto Lanzi

Summary

ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma is a very rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome, with a high morbidity and mortality risk due to both cortisol and catecholamines excess. We report the case of a 45-year-old female patient with a 3 cm, high-density, left adrenal mass, diagnosed as an ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma. The biochemical sensitivity of the tumor to somatostatin analogues was tested by a 100 μg s.c. octreotide administration, which led to an ACTH and cortisol reduction of 50 and 25% respectively. In addition to alpha and beta blockers, preoperative approach to laparoscopic adrenalectomy included octreotide, a somatostatin analogue, together with ketoconazole, in order to achieve an adequate pre-surgical control of cortisol release. Histopathological assessment confirmed an ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma expressing type 2 and 5 somatostatin receptors (SSTR-2 and -5).

Learning points:

  • ACTH-secreting pheochromocytomas represent a rare and severe condition, characterized by high morbidity and mortality risk.
  • Surgical removal of the adrenal mass is the gold standard treatment, but adequate medical therapy is required preoperatively to improve the surgical outcome and to avoid major complications.
  • Somatostatin analogs, in addition to other medications, may represent a useful therapeutic option for the presurgical management of selected patients.
  • In this sense, the octreotide challenge test is a useful tool to predict favorable therapeutic response to the treatment.
Open access

Stephanie Wei Ping Wong, Yew Wen Yap, Ram Prakash Narayanan, Mohammad Al-Jubouri, Ashley Grossman, Christina Daousi and Yahya Mahgoub

Summary

We report our experience on managing a case of florid Cushing’s disease with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) sepsis using intravenous etomidate in the intensive care unit of a UK district general hospital.

Learning points:

  • Severe Cushing’s syndrome is associated with high morbidity and mortality.
  • Etomidate is a safe and effective medical therapy to rapidly lower cortisol levels even in the context of severe sepsis and immunosuppression.
  • Etomidate should ideally be administered in an intensive care unit but is still feasible in a district general hospital.
  • During treatment with etomidate, accumulation of serum 11β-deoxycortisol (11DOC) levels can cross-react with laboratory cortisol measurement leading to falsely elevated serum cortisol levels. For this reason, serum cortisol measurement using a mass spectrometry assay should ideally be used to guide etomidate prescription.
Open access

Teresa M Canteros, Valeria De Miguel and Patricia Fainstein-Day

Summary

Severe Cushing syndrome (SCS) is considered an emergency that requires immediate treatment to lower serum cortisol levels. Fluconazole may be considered an alternative treatment in Cushing syndrome when ketoconazole is not tolerated or unavailable. We report a 39-year-old woman with a history of partial pancreaticoduodenectomy due to a periampullary neuroendocrine tumor with locoregional extension. Three years after surgery, she developed liver metastases and was started on 120 mg of lanreotide/month, despite which, liver metastases progressed in the following 6 months. The patient showed extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, delirium, moon face, hirsutism and severe proximal weakness. Laboratory tests showed anemia, hyperglycemia and severe hypokalemia. 24-h urinary free cortisol: 2152 nmol/day (reference range (RR): <276), morning serum cortisol 4883.4 nmol/L (RR: 138–690), ACTH 127.3 pmol/L (RR: 2.2–10). She was diagnosed with ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS). On admission, she presented with acute upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding and hemodynamic instability. Intravenous fluconazole 400 mg/day was started. After 48 h, her mental state improved and morning cortisol decreased by 25%. The dose was titrated to 600 mg/day which resulted in a 55% decrease in cortisol levels in 1 week, but then had to be decreased to 400 mg/day because transaminase levels increased over 3 times the upper normal level. After 18 days of treatment, hemodynamic stability, lower cortisol levels and better overall clinical status enabled successful bilateral adrenalectomy. This case report shows that intravenous fluconazole effectively decreased cortisol levels in SCS due to EAS.

Learning points:

  • Severe Cushing syndrome can be effectively treated with fluconazole to achieve a significant improvement of hypercortisolism prior to bilateral adrenalectomy.
  • Intravenous fluconazole is an alternative treatment when ketoconazole is not tolerated and etomidate is not available.
  • Fluconazole is well tolerated with mild side effects. Hepatotoxicity is usually mild and resolves after drug discontinuation.
Open access

Lima Lawrence, Peng Zhang, Humberto Choi, Usman Ahmad, Valeria Arrossi, Andrei Purysko and Vinni Makin

Summary

Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production leading to ectopic ACTH syndrome accounts for a small proportion of all Cushing’s syndrome (CS) cases. Thymic neuroendocrine tumors are rare neoplasms that may secrete ACTH leading to rapid development of hypercortisolism causing electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and an increased risk for opportunistic infections. We present a unique case of a patient who presented with a mediastinal mass, revealed to be an ACTH-secreting thymic neuroendocrine tumor (NET) causing ectopic CS. As the diagnosis of CS from ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) remains challenging, we emphasize the necessity for high clinical suspicion in the appropriate setting, concordance between biochemical, imaging and pathology findings, along with continued vigilant monitoring for recurrence after definitive treatment.

Learning points:

  • Functional thymic neuroendocrine tumors are exceedingly rare.
  • Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome secondary to thymic neuroendocrine tumors secreting ACTH present with features of hypercortisolism including electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and hyperglycemia, and opportunistic infections.
  • The ability to undergo surgery and completeness of resection are the strongest prognostic factors for improved overall survival; however, the recurrence rate remains high.
  • A high degree of initial clinical suspicion followed by vigilant monitoring is required for patients with this challenging disease.
Open access

Carlos Tavares Bello, Emma van der Poest Clement and Richard Feelders

Summary

Cushing’s syndrome is a rare disease that results from prolonged exposure to supraphysiological levels of glucocorticoids. Severe and rapidly progressive cases are often, but not exclusively, attributable to ectopic ACTH secretion. Extreme hypercortisolism usually has florid metabolic consequences and is associated with an increased infectious and thrombotic risk. The authors report on a case of a 51-year-old male that presented with severe Cushing’s syndrome secondary to an ACTH-secreting pituitary macroadenoma, whose diagnostic workup was affected by concurrent subclinical multifocal pulmonary infectious nodules. The case is noteworthy for the atypically severe presentation of Cushing’s disease, and it should remind the clinician of the possible infectious and thrombotic complications associated with Cushing’s syndrome.

Learning points:

  • Severe Cushing’s syndrome is not always caused by ectopic ACTH secretion.
  • Hypercortisolism is a state of immunosuppression, being associated with an increased risk for opportunistic infections.
  • Infectious pulmonary infiltrates may lead to imaging diagnostic dilemmas when investigating a suspected ectopic ACTH secretion.
  • Cushing’s syndrome carries an increased thromboembolic risk that may even persist after successful surgical management.
  • Antibiotic and venous thromboembolism prophylaxis should be considered in every patient with severe Cushing’s syndrome.
Open access

Elise Flynn, Sara Baqar, Dorothy Liu, Elif I Ekinci, Stephen Farrell, Jeffrey D Zajac, Mario De Luise and Ego Seeman

Summary

ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma (ASP) is a rare cause of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (CS). We report the case of a 63-year-old female presenting with CS secondary to an ASP complicated by bowel perforation. This case report highlights ASP as an uncommon but important cause of ectopic ACTH secretion (EAS). There have been 29 cases of ASP, all of which were unilateral and benign, but associated with significant complications. Patients presenting with ASP have the potential for cure with unilateral adrenalectomy. Given this promising prognosis if recognised, ASP should be considered in the diagnostic workup of ACTH-dependent CS. As this case demonstrates, gastrointestinal complications can arise from severe hypercortisolaemia associated with CS. Early medical and surgical intervention is imperative as mortality approaches 50% once bowel perforation occurs.

Learning points

  • Consider phaeochromocytoma in the diagnostic workup of ACTH-dependent CS; screen with plasma metanephrines or urinary catecholamines.
  • Serial screening may be required if ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma is suspected, as absolute levels can be misleading.
  • Early catecholamine receptor blockade and adrenal synthesis blockade may avoid the need for rescue bilateral adrenalectomy in ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma.
  • Consider early medical or surgical management when gastrointestinal features are present in patients with CS, as bowel perforation due to severe hypercortisolaemia can occur and is associated with significant mortality.