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Open access

Katta Sai, Amos Lal, Jhansi Lakshmi Maradana, Pruthvi Raj Velamala and Trivedi Nitin

Summary

Mifepristone is a promising option for the management of hypercortisolism associated with hyperglycemia. However, its use may result in serious electrolyte imbalances, especially during dose escalation. In our patient with adrenocorticotropic hormone-independent macro-nodular adrenal hyperplasia, unilateral adrenalectomy resulted in biochemical and clinical improvement, but subclinical hypercortisolism persisted following adrenalectomy. She was started on mifepristone. Unfortunately, she missed her follow-up appointments following dosage escalation and required hospitalization at an intensive care level for severe refractory hypokalemia.

Learning points:

  • Mifepristone, a potent antagonist of glucocorticoid receptors, has a high risk of adrenal insufficiency, despite high cortisol levels.
  • Mifepristone is associated with hypokalemia due to spill-over effect of cortisol on unopposed mineralocorticoid receptors.
  • Given the lack of a biochemical parameter to assess improvement, the dosing of mifepristone is based on clinical progress.
  • Patients on mifepristone require anticipation of toxicity, especially when the dose is escalated.
  • The half-life of mifepristone is 85 h, requiring prolonged monitoring for toxicity, even after the medication is held.
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

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

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

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

Philip D Oddie, Benjamin B Albert, Paul L Hofman, Craig Jefferies, Stephen Laughton and Philippa J Carter

Summary

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) during childhood is a rare malignant tumor that frequently results in glucocorticoid and/or androgen excess. When there are signs of microscopic or macroscopic residual disease, adjuvant therapy is recommended with mitotane, an adrenolytic and cytotoxic drug. In addition to the anticipated side effect of adrenal insufficiency, mitotane is known to cause gynecomastia and hypothyroidism in adults. It has never been reported to cause precocious puberty. A 4-year-old girl presented with a 6-week history of virilization and elevated androgen levels and 1-year advancement in bone age. Imaging revealed a right adrenal mass, which was subsequently surgically excised. Histology revealed ACC with multiple unfavorable features, including high mitotic index, capsular invasion and atypical mitoses. Adjuvant chemotherapy was started with mitotane, cisplatin, etoposide and doxorubicin. She experienced severe gastrointestinal side effects and symptomatic adrenal insufficiency, which occurred despite physiological-dose corticosteroid replacement. She also developed hypothyroidism that responded to treatment with levothyroxine and peripheral precocious puberty (PPP) with progressive breast development and rapidly advancing bone age. Five months after discontinuing mitotane, her adrenal insufficiency persisted and she developed secondary central precocious puberty (CPP). This case demonstrates the diverse endocrine complications associated with mitotane therapy, which contrast with the presentation of ACC itself. It also provides the first evidence that the known estrogenic effect of mitotane can manifest as PPP.

Learning points:

  • Adrenocortical carcinoma is an important differential diagnosis for virilization in young children
  • Mitotane is a chemotherapeutic agent that is used to treat adrenocortical carcinoma and causes adrenal necrosis
  • Mitotane is an endocrine disruptor. In addition to the intended effect of adrenal insufficiency, it can cause hypothyroidism, with gynecomastia also reported in adults.
  • Patients taking mitotane require very high doses of hydrocortisone replacement therapy because mitotane interferes with steroid metabolism. This effect persists after mitotane therapy is completed
  • In our case, mitotane caused peripheral precocious puberty, possibly through its estrogenic effect.
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:

  • All NF-1 patients who have symptoms suggestive of a pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma (PPGL), even remotely, should undergo biochemical testing.
  • The initial biochemical tests of choice for PPGL in NF-1 are either plasma-free metanephrines or urinary fractionated metanephrines. Any elevations of metanephrines should be carefully evaluated for the presence of PPGLs in NF-1 patients.
  • Primary hyperparathyroidism (PHPT) is described in subjects with NF-1. Due to the lack of epidemiological and functional studies, their association is yet to be substantiated. Meanwhile, PHPT may further exacerbate the metabolic bone defect in these patients and should be treated when present according to published guidelines.
  • Coexistence of PPGL and PHPT can occur in subjects with NF-1, mimicking multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2).
Open access

R T Casey, B G Challis, D Pitfield, R M Mahroof, N Jamieson, C J Bhagra, A Vuylsteke, S J Pettit and K C Chatterjee

Summary

A phaeochromocytoma (PC) is a rare, catecholamine-secreting neuroendocrine tumour arising from the adrenal medulla. Presenting symptoms of this rare tumour are highly variable but life-threatening multiorgan dysfunction can occur secondary to catecholamine-induced hypertension or hypotension and subsequent cardiovascular collapse. High levels of circulating catecholamines can induce an acute stress cardiomyopathy, also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Recent studies have focused on early diagnosis and estimation of the prevalence of acute stress cardiomyopathy in patients with PC, but very little is reported about management of these complex cases. Here, we report the case of a 38-year-old lady who presented with an acute Takotsubo or stress cardiomyopathy and catecholamine crisis, caused by an occult left-sided 5 cm PC. The initial presenting crisis manifested with symptoms of severe headache and abdominal pain, triggered by a respiratory tract infection. On admission to hospital, the patient rapidly deteriorated, developing respiratory failure, cardiogenic shock and subsequent cardiovascular collapse due to further exacerbation of the catecholamine crisis caused by a combination of opiates and intravenous corticosteroid. An echocardiogram revealed left ventricular apical hypokinesia and ballooning, with an estimated left ventricular ejection fraction of 10–15%. Herein, we outline the early stabilisation period, preoperative optimisation and intraoperative management, providing anecdotal guidance for the management of this rare life-threatening complication of PC.

Learning points:

  • A diagnosis of phaeochromocytoma should be considered in patients presenting with acute cardiomyopathy or cardiogenic shock without a clear ischaemic or valvular aetiology.
  • Catecholamine crisis is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires cross-disciplinary expertise and management to ensure the best clinical outcome.
  • After initial resuscitation, treatment of acute catecholamine-induced stress cardiomyopathy requires careful introduction of alpha-blockade followed by beta-blockade if necessary to manage β-receptor-mediated tachycardia.
  • Prolonged α-adrenergic receptor stimulation by high levels of circulating catecholamines precipitates arterial vasoconstriction and intravascular volume contraction, which can further exacerbate hypotension. Invasive pressure monitoring can aid management of intravascular volume in these complex patients.
Open access

Teresa Rego, Fernando Fonseca, Stéphanie Espiard, Karine Perlemoine, Jérôme Bertherat and Ana Agapito

Summary

PBMAH is a rare etiology of Cushing syndrome (CS). Familial clustering suggested a genetic cause that was recently confirmed, after identification of inactivating germline mutations in armadillo repeat-containing 5 (ARMC5) gene. A 70-year-old female patient was admitted due to left femoral neck fracture in May 2014, in Orthopedics Department. During hospitalization, hypertension (HTA) and hypokalemia were diagnosed. She presented with clinical signs of hypercortisolism and was transferred to the Endocrinology ward for suspected CS. Laboratory workup revealed: ACTH <5 pg/mL; urinary free cortisol (UFC), 532 µg/24 h (normal range: 20–90); failure to suppress the low-dose dexamethasone test (0.5 mg every 6 h for 48 h): cortisol 21 µg/dL. Abdominal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed enlarged nodular adrenals (right, 55 × 54 × 30 mm; left, 85 × 53 × 35 mm), and she was submitted to bilateral adrenalectomy. In 2006, this patient’s 39-year-old daughter had been treated by one of the authors. She presented with severe clinical and biological hypercortisolism. Computed tomography (CT) scan showed massively enlarged nodular adrenals with maximal axis of 15 cm for both. Bilateral adrenalectomy was performed. In this familial context of PBMAH, genetic study was performed. Leucocyte DNA genotyping identified in both patients the same germline heterozygous ARMC5 mutation in exon 1 c.172_173insA p.I58Nfs*45. The clinical cases herein described have an identical phenotype with severe hypercortisolism and huge adrenal glands, but different ages at the time of diagnosis. Current knowledge of inheritance of this disease, its insidious nature and the well-known deleterious effect of hypercortisolism favor genetic study to timely identify and treat these patients.

Learning points:

  • PBMAH is a rare etiology of CS, characterized by functioning adrenal macronodules and variable cortisol secretion.
  • The asymmetric/asynchronous involvement of only one adrenal gland can also occur, making disease diagnosis a challenge.
  • Familial clustering suggests a genetic cause that was recently confirmed, after identification of inactivating germline mutations in armadillo repeat-containing 5 (ARMC5) gene.
  • The insidious nature of this disease and the well-known deleterious effect of hypercortisolism favor genetic study of other family members, to diagnose and treat these patients timely.
  • As ARMC5 is expressed in many organs and recent findings suggest an association of PBMAH and meningioma, a watchful follow-up is required.