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Open access

Takuya Higashitani, Shigehiro Karashima, Daisuke Aono, Seigoh Konishi, Mitsuhiro Kometani, Rie Oka, Masashi Demura, Kenji Furukawa, Yuto Yamazaki, Hironobu Sasano, Takashi Yoneda, and Yoshiyu Takeda

Summary

Renovascular hypertension (RVHT) is an important and potentially treatable form of resistant hypertension. Hypercortisolemia could also cause hypertension and diabetes mellitus. We experienced a case wherein adrenalectomy markedly improved blood pressure and plasma glucose levels in a patient with RVHT and low-level autonomous cortisol secretion. A 62-year-old Japanese man had been treated for hypertension and diabetes mellitus for 10 years. He was hospitalized because of a disturbance in consciousness. His blood pressure (BP) was 236/118 mmHg, pulse rate was 132 beats/min, and plasma glucose level was 712 mg/dL. Abdominal CT scanning revealed the presence of bilateral adrenal masses and left atrophic kidney. Abdominal magnetic resonance angiography demonstrated marked stenosis of the left main renal artery. The patient was subsequently diagnosed with atherosclerotic RVHT with left renal artery stenosis. His left adrenal lobular mass was over 40 mm and it was clinically suspected the potential for cortisol overproduction. Therefore, laparoscopic left nephrectomy and adrenalectomy were simultaneously performed, resulting in improved BP and glucose levels. Pathological studies revealed the presence of multiple cortisol-producing adrenal nodules and aldosterone-producing cell clusters in the adjacent left adrenal cortex. In the present case, the activated renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and cortisol overproduction resulted in severe hypertension, which was managed with simultaneous unilateral nephrectomy and adrenalectomy.

Learning points:

  • Concomitant activation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system and cortisol overproduction may contribute to the development of severe hypertension and lead to lethal cardiovascular complications.
  • Treatment with simultaneous unilateral nephrectomy and adrenalectomy markedly improves BP and blood glucose levels.
  • CYP11B2 immunohistochemistry staining revealed the existence of aldosterone-producing cell clusters (APCCs) in the adjacent non-nodular adrenal gland, suggesting that APCCs may contribute to aldosterone overproduction in patients with RVHT.
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

Impana Shetty, Sarah Fuller, Margarita Raygada, Maria J Merino, B J Thomas, Brigitte C Widemann, Karlyne M Reilly, Karel Pacak, and Jaydira Del Rivero

Summary

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive cancer that originates in the cortex of the adrenal gland and generally has a poor prognosis. ACC is rare but can be more commonly seen in those with cancer predisposition syndromes (e.g. Li-Fraumeni and Lynch Syndrome). The diagnosis of ACC is sometimes uncertain and it requires the use of precise molecular pathology; the differential diagnosis includes pheochromocytoma, adrenal adenoma, renal carcinoma, or hepatocellular carcinoma. We describe a case of a 57-year-old woman with Lynch Syndrome and metastatic ACC who was initially diagnosed as having pheochromocytoma. The tumor was first identified at 51 years of age by ultrasound followed by a CT scan. She underwent a left adrenalectomy, and the histopathology identified pheochromocytoma. Two years later, she had tumor recurrence with imaging studies showing multiple lung nodules. Following a wedge resection by video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), histopathology was read as metastatic pheochromocytoma at one institution and metastatic ACC at another institution. She later presented to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where the diagnosis of ACC was confirmed. Following her ACC diagnosis, she was treated with mitotane and pembrolizumab which were stopped due to side effects and progression of disease. She is currently receiving etoposide, doxorubicin, and cisplatin (EDP). This case highlights the importance of using a multi-disciplinary approach in patient care. Thorough evaluation of the tumor’s pathology and analysis of the patient’s genetic profile are necessary to obtain the correct diagnosis for the patient and can significantly influence the course of treatment.

Learning points:

  • Making the diagnosis of ACC can be difficult as the differential diagnosis includes pheochromocytoma, adrenal adenoma, renal carcinoma, or hepatocellular carcinoma.
  • Patients with Lynch Syndrome should undergo surveillance for ACC as there is evidence of an association between Lynch Syndrome and ACC.
  • Conducting a complete tumor immunoprofile and obtaining a second opinion is very important in cases of suspected ACC in order to confirm the proper diagnosis.
  • A multi-disciplinary approach including genetic testing and a thorough evaluation of the tumor’s pathology is imperative to ensuring that the patient receives an accurate diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.
Open access

G Leksic, A M Alduk, V Molnar, A Haxhiu, A Haxhiu, A Balasko, N Knezevic, T Dusek, and D Kastelan

Summary

Primary aldosteronism (PA) is characterised by aldosterone hypersecretion and represents a common cause of secondary hypertension. During diagnostic evaluation, it is essential to determine the aetiology of PA since the treatment of unilateral and bilateral disease differs significantly. Adrenal vein sampling (AVS) has been implemented as a gold standard test for the diagnosis of PA subtype. However, due to the AVS complexity, costs and limited availability, many patients with PA are being treated based on the computed tomography (CT) findings. In this article, we present two patients with discrepant CT and AVS results, demonstrating that AVS is the only reliable method for localising the source of aldosterone excess.

Learning points:

  • CT is an unreliable method for distinguishing aldosterone-producing adenoma (APA) from bilateral adrenal hyperplasia (BAH).
  • CT can be misleading in defining lateralisation of the aldosterone excess in case of unilateral disease (APA).
  • AVS is the gold standard test for defining the PA subtype.
Open access

Valeria de Miguel, Andrea Paissan, Patricio García Marchiñena, Alberto Jurado, Mariana Isola, José Alfie, and Patricia Fainstein-Day

Summary

We present the case of a 25-year-old male with a history of neurofibromatosis type 1 and bilateral pheochromocytoma 4 years after kidney transplantation that was successfully treated with simultaneous bilateral posterior retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy.

Learning points:

  • Hypertensive patients with NF1 should always be screened for pheochromocytoma.
  • Pheochromocytoma is rarely associated with transplantation, but it must be ruled out in patients with genetic susceptibility.
  • Posterior retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy (PRA) allows more direct access to the adrenal glands, especially in patients with previous abdominal surgeries.
Open access

Pedro Marques, Nicola Tufton, Satya Bhattacharya, Mark Caulfield, and Scott A Akker

Summary

Mineralocorticoid hypertension is most often caused by autonomous overproduction of aldosterone, but excess of other mineralocorticoid precursors can lead to a similar presentation. 11-Deoxycorticosterone (DOC) excess, which can occur in 11-β hydroxylase or 17-α hydroxylase deficiencies, in DOC-producing adrenocortical tumours or in patients taking 11-β hydroxylase inhibitors, may cause mineralocorticoid hypertension. We report a 35-year-old woman who in the third trimester of pregnancy was found to have a large adrenal mass on routine obstetric ultrasound. On referral to our unit, persistent hypertension and long-standing hypokalaemia was noted, despite good compliance with multiple antihypertensives. Ten years earlier, she had hypertension noted in pregnancy which had persisted after delivery. A MRI scan confirmed the presence of a 12 cm adrenal mass and biochemistry revealed high levels of DOC and low/normal renin, aldosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone, with normal catecholamine levels. The patient was treated with antihypertensives until obstetric delivery, following which she underwent an adrenalectomy. Histology confirmed a large adrenal cortical neoplasm of uncertain malignant potential. Postoperatively, blood pressure and serum potassium normalised, and the antihypertensive medication was stopped. Over 10 years of follow-up, she remains asymptomatic with normal DOC measurements. This case should alert clinicians to the possibility of a diagnosis of a DOC-producing adrenal tumours in patients with adrenal nodules and apparent mineralocorticoid hypertension in the presence of low or normal levels of aldosterone. The associated diagnostic and management challenges are discussed.

Learning points:

  • Hypermineralocorticoidism is characterised by hypertension, volume expansion and hypokalaemic alkalosis and is most commonly due to overproduction of aldosterone. However, excess of other mineralocorticoid products, such as DOC, lead to the same syndrome but with normal or low aldosterone levels.
  • The differential diagnosis of resistant hypertension with low renin and low/normal aldosterone includes congenital adrenal hyperplasia, syndrome of apparent mineralocorticoid excess, Cushing’s syndrome, Liddle’s syndrome and 11-deoxycorticosterone-producing tumours.
  • DOC is one intermediate product in the mineralocorticoid synthesis with weaker activity than aldosterone. However, marked DOC excess seen in 11-β hydroxylase or 17-α hydroxylase deficiencies in DOC-producing adrenocortical tumours or in patients taking 11-β hydroxylase inhibitors, may cause mineralocorticoid hypertension.
  • Excessive production of DOC in adrenocortical tumours has been attributed to reduced activity of the enzymes 11-β hydroxylase and 17-α hydroxylase and increased activity of 21-α hydroxylase.
  • The diagnosis of DOC-producing adrenal tumours is challenging because of its rarity and poor availability of DOC laboratory assays.
Open access

Matthieu St-Jean, Jessica MacKenzie-Feder, Isabelle Bourdeau, and André Lacroix

Summary

A 29-year-old G4A3 woman presented at 25 weeks of pregnancy with progressive signs of Cushing’s syndrome (CS), gestational diabetes requiring insulin and hypertension. A 3.4 × 3.3 cm right adrenal adenoma was identified during abdominal ultrasound imaging for nephrolithiasis. Investigation revealed elevated levels of plasma cortisol, 24 h urinary free cortisol (UFC) and late-night salivary cortisol (LNSC). Serum ACTH levels were not fully suppressed (4 and 5 pmol/L (N: 2–11)). One month post-partum, CS regressed, 24-h UFC had normalised while ACTH levels were now less than 2 pmol/L; however, dexamethasone failed to suppress cortisol levels. Tests performed in vivo 6 weeks post-partum to identify aberrant hormone receptors showed no cortisol stimulation by various tests (including 300 IU hLH i.v.) except after administration of 250 µg i.v. Cosyntropin 1–24. Right adrenalectomy demonstrated an adrenocortical adenoma and atrophy of adjacent cortex. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis of the adenoma revealed the presence of ACTH (MC2) receptor mRNA, while LHCG receptor mRNA was almost undetectable. This case reveals that CS exacerbation in the context of pregnancy can result from the placental-derived ACTH stimulation of MC2 receptors on the adrenocortical adenoma. Possible contribution of other placental-derived factors such as oestrogens, CRH or CRH-like peptides cannot be ruled out.

Learning points:

  • Diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy is complicated by several physiological alterations in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis regulation occurring in normal pregnancy.
  • Cushing’s syndrome (CS) exacerbation during pregnancy can be associated with aberrant expression of LHCG receptor on primary adrenocortical tumour or hyperplasia in some cases, but not in this patient.
  • Placental-derived ACTH, which is not subject to glucocorticoid negative feedback, stimulated cortisol secretion from this adrenal adenoma causing transient CS exacerbation during pregnancy.
  • Following delivery and tumour removal, suppression of HPA axis can require several months to recover and requires glucocorticoid replacement therapy.
Open access

Catherine Alguire, Jessica Chbat, Isabelle Forest, Ariane Godbout, and Isabelle Bourdeau

Summary

Pheochromocytoma is a rare tumor of the adrenal gland. It often presents with the classic triad of headache, palpitations and generalized sweating. Although not described as a typical symptom of pheochromocytoma, anxiety is the fourth most common symptom reported by patients suffering of pheochromocytoma. We report the case of a 64 year old man who had severe anxiety and panic disorder as presenting symptoms of pheochromocytoma. After 13 years of psychiatric follow-up, the patient was diagnosed with malignant pheochromocytoma. After surgical resection of his pheochromocytoma and his hepatic metastases, the major panic attacks completely disappeared, the anxiety symptoms improved significantly and the psychiatric medications were stopped except for a very low maintenance dose of venlafaxine. We found in our cohort of 160 patients with pheochromocytoma 2 others cases of apparently benign tumors with severe anxiety that resolved after pheochromocytoma resection. These cases highlight that pheochromocytoma should be included in the differential diagnosis of refractory anxiety disorder.

Learning points:

  • Anxiety and panic disorder may be the main presenting symptoms of pheochromocytoma.
  • The diagnosis of pheochromocytoma should be excluded in cases of long-term panic disorder refractory to medications since the anxiety may be secondary to a catecholamine-secreting tumor.
  • Surgical treatment of pheochromocytoma leads to significant improvement of anxiety disorders.
Open access

Cheuk-Lik Wong, Chun-Kit Fok, and Vicki Ho-Kee Tam

Summary

We report a case of elderly Chinese lady with neurofibromatosis type-1 presenting with longstanding palpitation, paroxysmal hypertension and osteoporosis. Biochemical testing showed mild hypercalcaemia with non-suppressed parathyroid hormone level suggestive of primary hyperparathyroidism, and mildly elevated urinary fractionated normetanephrine and plasma-free normetanephrine pointing to a catecholamine-secreting pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma. Further scintigraphic investigation revealed evidence of a solitary parathyroid adenoma causing primary hyperparathyroidism and a left pheochromocytoma. Resection of the parathyroid adenoma and pheochromocytoma resulted in normalization of biochemical abnormalities and hypertension. The rare concurrence of primary hyperparathyroidism and pheochromocytoma in neurofibromatosis type-1 is discussed.

Learning points:

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.