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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

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

Gemma White, Nicola Tufton and Scott A Akker

Summary

At least 40% of phaeochromocytomas and paraganglioma’s (PPGLs) are associated with an underlying genetic mutation. The understanding of the genetic landscape of these tumours has rapidly evolved, with 18 associated genes now identified. Among these, mutations in the subunits of succinate dehydrogenase complex (SDH) are the most common, causing around half of familial PPGL cases. Occurrence of PPGLs in carriers of SDHB, SDHC and SDHD subunit mutations has been long reported, but it is only recently that variants in the SDHA subunit have been linked to PPGL formation. Previously documented cases have, to our knowledge, only been found in isolated cases where pathogenic SDHA variants were identified retrospectively. We report the case of an asymptomatic suspected carotid body tumour found during surveillance screening in a 72-year-old female who is a known carrier of a germline SDHA pathogenic variant. To our knowledge, this is the first screen that detected PPGL found in a previously identified SDHA pathogenic variant carrier, during surveillance imaging. This finding supports the use of cascade genetic testing and surveillance screening in all carriers of a pathogenic SDHA variant.

Learning points:

  • SDH mutations are important causes of PPGL disease.

  • SDHA is much rarer compared to SDHB and SDHD mutations.

  • Pathogenicity and penetrance are yet to be fully determined in cases of SDHA-related PPGL.

  • Surveillance screening should be used for SDHA PPGL cases to identify recurrence, metastasis or metachronous disease.

  • Surveillance screening for SDH-related disease should be performed in identified carriers of a pathogenic SDHA variant.

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

Ana Gonçalves Ferreira, Tiago Nunes da Silva, Sofia Alegria, Maria Carlos Cordeiro and Jorge Portugal

Summary

Pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma (PPGL) are neuroendocrine tumors that can secrete catecholamines. The authors describe a challenging case who presented as stress cardiomyopathy and myocardial infarction (MI). A 76-year-old man, with a medical history of Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidaemia and a previous inferior MI in 2001, presented to the emergency department due to chest pain, headaches and vomiting. He also reported worsening blood glucose levels and increasing constipation over the preceding weeks. BP was 185/89 mmHg (no other relevant findings). EKG had ST segment depression in leads V2-V6, T troponin was 600 ng/L (<14) and the echocardiogram showed left ventricular hypokinesia with mildly compromised systolic function. Nevertheless, he rapidly progressed to severe biventricular dysfunction. Coronary angiogram showed a 90% anterior descendent coronary artery occlusion (already present in 2001), which was treated with angioplasty/stenting. In the following days, a very labile BP profile and unexplained sinus tachycardia episodes were observed. Because of sustained severe constipation, the patient underwent an abdominal CT that revealed a retroperitoneal, heterogeneous, hypervascular mass on the right (62 × 35 mm), most likely a paraganglioma. Urinary metanephrines were increased several fold. 68Ga-DOTANOC PET-CT scan showed increased uptake in the abdominal mass (no evidence of disease elsewhere). He was started on a calcium-channel blocker and alpha blockade and underwent surgery with no major complications. Eight months after surgery, the patient has no evidence of disease. Genetic testing was negative for known germline mutations. This was a challenging diagnosis, but it was essential for adequate cardiovascular stabilization and to reduce further morbidity.

Learning points:

  • PPGL frequently produces catecholamines and can manifest with several cardiovascular syndromes, including stress cardiomyopathy and myocardial infarction.

  • Even in the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD), PPGL should be suspected if signs or symptoms attributed to catecholamine excess are present (in this case, high blood pressure, worsening hyperglycaemia and constipation).

  • Establishing the correct diagnosis is important for adequate treatment choice.

  • Inodilators and mechanical support might be preferable options (if available) for cardiovascular stabilization prior to alpha blockade and surgery.

  • Laboratory interference should be suspected irrespective of metanephrine levels, especially in the context of treated Parkinson’s disease.

Open access

Vasileios Chortis, Christine J H May, Kassiani Skordilis, John Ayuk, Wiebke Arlt and Rachel K Crowley

Summary

Context

Adrenal incidentalomas (AI) represent an increasingly common problem in modern endocrine practice. The diagnostic approach to AIs can be challenging and occasionally reveals surprising features. Here we describe two rare cases of complex adrenal lesions consisting of phaeochromocytomas with synchronous metastases from extra-adrenal primaries.

Case descriptions

Patient 1 – a 65-year-old gentleman with a newly diagnosed malignant melanoma was found to harbour an adrenal lesion with suspicious radiographic characteristics. Percutaneous adrenal biopsy was consistent with adrenocortical adenoma. After excision of the skin melanoma and regional lymphatic metastases, he was followed up without imaging. Three years later, he presented with abdominal discomfort and enlargement of his adrenal lesion, associated with high plasma metanephrines. Adrenalectomy revealed a mixed tumour consisting of a large phaeochromocytoma with an embedded melanoma metastasis in its core. Patient 2 – a 63-year-old lady with a history of NF-1-related phaeochromocytoma 20 years ago and previous breast cancer presented with a new adrenal lesion on the contralateral side. Plasma normetanephrine was markedly elevated. Elective adrenalectomy revealed an adrenal tumour consisting of chromaffin cells intermixed with breast carcinoma cells.

Conclusions

Adrenal incidentalomas require careful evaluation to exclude metastatic disease, especially in the context of a history of previous malignancy. Adrenal biopsy provides limited and potentially misleading information. Phaeochromocytomas are highly vascularised tumours that may function as a sieve, extracting and retaining irregularly shaped cancer cells, thereby yielding adrenal masses with intriguing dual pathology.

Learning points:

  • Adrenal incidentalomas require careful evaluation focused on exclusion of underlying hormone excess and malignant pathology.

  • Adrenal biopsy can be misleading and should only be considered in select cases.

  • Phaeochromocytomas harbouring intratumoural metastases from other, extra-adrenal primary malignancies represent rare pathological entities that highlight the complexities that can be presented by adrenal tumours.

Open access

Catherine D Zhang, Pavel N Pichurin, Aleh Bobr, Melanie L Lyden, William F Young Jr and Irina Bancos

Summary

Carney complex (CNC) is a rare multiple neoplasia syndrome characterized by spotty pigmentation of the skin and mucosa in association with various non-endocrine and endocrine tumors, including primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease (PPNAD). A 20-year-old woman was referred for suspected Cushing syndrome. She had signs of cortisol excess as well as skin lentigines on physical examination. Biochemical investigation was suggestive of corticotropin (ACTH)-independent Cushing syndrome. Unenhanced computed tomography scan of the abdomen did not reveal an obvious adrenal mass. She subsequently underwent bilateral laparoscopic adrenalectomy, and histopathology was consistent with PPNAD. Genetic testing revealed a novel frameshift pathogenic variant c.488delC/p.Thr163MetfsX2 (ClinVar Variation ID: 424516) in the PRKAR1A gene, consistent with clinical suspicion for CNC. Evaluation for other clinical features of the complex was unrevealing. We present a case of PPNAD-associated Cushing syndrome leading to the diagnosis of CNC due to a novel PRKAR1A pathogenic variant.

Learning points:

  • PPNAD should be considered in the differential for ACTH-independent Cushing syndrome, especially when adrenal imaging appears normal.

  • The diagnosis of PPNAD should prompt screening for CNC.

  • CNC is a rare multiple neoplasia syndrome caused by inactivating pathogenic variants in the PRKAR1A gene.

  • Timely diagnosis of CNC and careful surveillance can help prevent potentially fatal complications of the disease.

Open access

Ilan Rahmani Tzvi-Ran, Judith Olchowski, Merav Fraenkel, Asher Bashiri and Leonid Barski

Summary

A previously healthy 24-year-old female underwent an emergent caesarean section without a major bleeding described. During the first post-operative days (POD) she complained of fatigue, headache and a failure to lactate with no specific and conclusive findings on head CT. On the following days, fever rose with a suspicion of an obstetric surgery-related infection, again with no evidence to support the diagnosis. On POD5 a new-onset hyponatremia was documented. The urine analysis suggested SIADH, and following a treatment failure, further investigation was performed and demonstrated both central hypothyroidism and adrenal insufficiency. The patient was immediately treated with hydrocortisone followed by levothyroxine with a rapid resolution of symptoms and hyponatremia. Further laboratory investigation demonstrated anterior hypopituitarism. The main differential diagnosis was Sheehan’s syndrome vs lymphocytic hypophysitis. Brain MRI was performed as soon as it was available and findings consistent with Sheehan’s syndrome confirmed the diagnosis. Lifelong hormonal replacement therapy was initiated. Further complaints on polyuria and polydipsia have led to a water deprivation testing and the diagnosis of partial central insipidus and appropriate treatment with DDAVP.

Learning points:

  • Sheehan’s syndrome can occur, though rarely, without an obvious major post-partum hemorrhage.

  • The syndrome may resemble lymphocytic hypophysitis clinically and imaging studies may be crucial in order to differentiate both conditions.

  • Hypopituitarism presentation may be variable and depends on the specific hormone deficit.

  • Euvolemic hyponatremia workup must include thyroid function test and 08:00 AM cortisol levels.

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.