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Open access

D Cappellani, C Sardella, M C Campopiano, A Falorni, P Marchetti and E Macchia

Summary

Insulin autoimmune syndrome (IAS), or Hirata disease, is a rare hypoglycaemic disorder caused by the presence of high titer of insulin autoantibodies (IAA) in patients without previous exposure to exogenous insulin. Even though its pathogenesis is not fully understood, striking evidences link IAS to previous exposure to sulphydryl-containing medications, like alpha-lipoic acid, a widely used nutritional supplement. Although challenging, a careful differential diagnosis from other causes of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia (such as insulinoma) is mandatory, since these conditions require different therapeutic approaches. In the present study, we report a 35-year-old woman originally from Sri Lanka who was referred to our University Hospital on suspicion of occult insulinoma. Her medical history was positive for endometriosis, treated with estroprogestins and alpha-lipoic acid. The latter supplement was begun 2 weeks before the first hypoglycaemic episode. Our tests confirmed the presence of hypoglycaemia associated with high insulin and C-peptide concentrations. When insulin concentrations were compared using different assays, the results were significantly different. Moreover, insulin values significantly decreased after precipitation with polyethylene glycol. An assay for IAA proved positive (530 U/mL). A genetic analysis revealed the presence of HLA-DRB1*04,15, an immunogenetic determinant associated with IAS. On the basis of clinical data we avoided a first-line approach with immunosuppressive treatments, and the patient was advised to modify her diet, with the introduction of frequent low-caloric meals. During follow-up evaluations, glucose levels (registered trough a flash glucose monitoring system) resulted progressively more stable. IAA titer progressively decreased, being undetectable by the fifteenth month, thus indicating the remission of the IAS.

Learning points:

  • Insulin autoimmune syndrome (IAS) is a rare cause of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia, whose prevalence is higher in East Asian populations due to the higher prevalence of specific immunogenetic determinants. Nevertheless, an increasing number of IAS cases is being reported worldwide, due to the wide diffusion of medications such as alpha-lipoic acid.

  • Differential diagnosis of IAS from other causes of hyperinsulinemic hypoglycaemia is challenging. Even though many tests can be suggestive of IAS, the gold standard remains the detection of IAAs, despite that dedicated commercial kits are not widely available.

  • The therapeutic approach to IAS is problematic. As a matter of fact IAS is often a self-remitting disease, but sometimes needs aggressive immunosuppression. The benefits and risks of any therapeutic choice should be carefully weighted and tailored on the single patient.

Open access

Bidhya Timilsina, Niranjan Tachamo, Prem Raj Parajuli and Ilan Gabriely

Summary

A 74-year-old woman presented with progressive lethargy, confusion, poor appetite and abdominal pain. She was found to have non-PTH-mediated severe hypercalcemia with renal failure and metabolic alkalosis. Extensive workup for hypercalcemia to rule out alternate etiology was unrevealing. Upon further questioning, she was taking excess calcium carbonate (Tums) for her worsening heartburn. She was diagnosed with milk-alkali syndrome (MAS). Her hypercalcemia and alkalosis recovered completely with aggressive hydration along with improvement in her renal function. High index of suspicion should be maintained and history of drug and supplements, especially calcium ingestion, should be routinely asked in patients presenting with hypercalcemia to timely diagnose MAS and prevent unnecessary tests and treatments.

Learning points:

  • Suspect milk-alkali syndrome in patients with hypercalcemia, metabolic alkalosis and renal failure, especially in context of ingestion of excess calcium-containing supplements.

  • Careful history of over-the-counter medications, supplements and diet is crucial to diagnose milk-alkali syndrome.

  • Milk-alkali syndrome may cause severe hypercalcemia in up to 25–30% of cases.

Open access

Diana Oliveira, Adriana Lages, Sandra Paiva and Francisco Carrilho

Summary

Addison’s disease, or primary adrenocortical insufficiency, is a long-term, potentially severe, rare endocrine disorder. In pregnancy, it is even rarer. We report the case of a 30-year-old pregnant patient with Addison’s disease, referred to Obstetrics-Endocrinology specialty consult at 14 weeks gestation. She had been to the emergency department of her local hospital various times during the first trimester presenting with a clinical scenario suggestive of glucocorticoid under-replacement (nausea, persistent vomiting and hypotension), but this was interpreted as normal pregnancy symptoms. Hydrocortisone dose was adjusted, and the patient maintained regular follow-up. No complications were reported for the remainder of gestation and delivery. Pregnant patients with Addison’s disease should be monitored during gestation and in the peripartum period by multidisciplinary teams. Adjustments in glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement therapy are often necessary, and monitoring should be based mainly on clinical findings, which becomes increasingly difficult during pregnancy. Patient education and specialized monitoring are key to avoiding complications from under- or over-replacement therapy in this period.

Learning points:

  • An increase in glucocorticoid replacement dose is expected to be necessary during pregnancy in a woman with Addison’s disease.

  • Patient education regarding steroid cover and symptoms of acute adrenal crisis are fundamental.

  • Monitoring in this period is challenging and remains mainly clinical.

  • The increase in hydrocortisone dose often obviates the need to increase fludrocortisone dose.

Open access

Caroline Bachmeier, Chirag Patel, Peter Kanowski and Kunwarjit Sangla

Summary

Primary hyperparathyroidism (PH) is a common endocrine abnormality and may occur as part of a genetic syndrome. Inactivating mutations of the tumour suppressor gene CDC73 have been identified as accounting for a large percentage of hyperparathyroidism-jaw tumour syndrome (HPT-JT) cases and to a lesser degree account for familial isolated hyperparathyroidism (FIHP) cases. Reports of CDC73 whole gene deletions are exceedingly rare. We report the case of a 39 year-old woman with PH secondary to a parathyroid adenoma associated with a large chromosomal deletion (2.5 Mb) encompassing the entire CDC73 gene detected years after parathyroidectomy. This case highlights the necessity to screen young patients with hyperparathyroidism for an underlying genetic aetiology. It also demonstrates that molecular testing for this disorder should contain techniques that can detect large deletions.

Learning points:

  • Necessity of genetic screening for young people with hyperparathyroidism.

  • Importance of screening for large, including whole gene CDC73 deletions.

  • Surveillance for patients with CDC73 gene mutations includes regular calcium and parathyroid hormone levels, dental assessments and imaging for uterine and renal tumours.

Open access

Alicia R Jones, Alan McNeil, Christopher Yates, Bala Krishnamurthy and Peter S Hamblin

Summary

A variety of neoplastic, inflammatory and congenital conditions can cause pituitary stalk thickening. Differentiating between these causes is important as targeted treatment may be offered. Diagnostic work-up consists of a thorough history, examination, biochemical analysis and imaging. We present the case of a 33-year-old male who presented with diabetes insipidus and had pituitary stalk thickening on magnetic resonance imaging. Further investigations revealed an elevated CSF βhCG, which raised the possibility of an intracranial germ cell tumor. However, when repeated on four different assays, the βhCG levels were discordant. On serial imaging, the pituitary stalk thickening reduced slightly, which would be unexpected for a germ cell tumor. This case raises the difficulties interpreting CSF βhCG, as not all immunoassays for βhCG have been validated for use in CSF. The Roche Diagnostics Elecsys and Siemens Centaur assays have been validated for CSF βhCG, and so we advocate using one of these methods. If unavailable or serum/CSF results are ambiguous, serial MRI is appropriate, with pituitary stalk biopsy considered if the stalk measures >6.5 mm or other imaging abnormalities are present.

Learning points:

  • Most adult patients with central diabetes insipidus have imaging abnormalities on a pituitary MRI. The most common abnormalities are loss of the posterior pituitary bright spot and pituitary stalk thickening, both of which are non-specific.

  • Causes of pituitary stalk thickening include neoplastic, inflammatory, infective and congenital lesions.

  • Investigation of pituitary stalk thickening should encompass the many possible causes and include biochemical analyses as well as imaging of the chest, abdomen and pelvis. Further investigations should be guided by the clinical context, but may include testicular ultrasound, CSF analysis and pituitary stalk biopsy.

  • Germ cell tumors involving the pituitary stalk may be suspected on clinical grounds, but in the absence of a tissue diagnosis (biopsy) confirmation may be difficult and relies on biochemical assessment of blood and possibly CSF as well as serial MRI imaging.

  • CSF βhCG levels should be analyzed on an instrument validated for use in CSF or on multiple instruments, and the pitfalls of testing this marker (false negative in some germ cell tumors, false positives in other conditions, lack of internationally agreed reference ranges for diagnosing germ cell tumors) should be considered when interpreting the results.

Open access

Syed Ali Imran, Khaled A Aldahmani, Lynette Penney, Sidney E Croul, David B Clarke, David M Collier, Donato Iacovazzo and Márta Korbonits

Summary

Early-onset acromegaly causing gigantism is often associated with aryl-hydrocarbon-interacting receptor protein (AIP) mutation, especially if there is a positive family history. A15y male presented with tiredness and visual problems. He was 201 cm tall with a span of 217 cm. He had typical facial features of acromegaly, elevated IGF-1, secondary hypogonadism and a large macroadenoma. His paternal aunt had a history of acromegaly presenting at the age of 35 years. Following transsphenoidal surgery, his IGF-1 normalized and clinical symptoms improved. He was found to have a novel AIP mutation destroying the stop codon c.991T>C; p.*331R. Unexpectedly, his father and paternal aunt were negative for this mutation while his mother and older sister were unaffected carriers, suggesting that his aunt represents a phenocopy.

Learning points:

  • Typical presentation for a patient with AIP mutation with excess growth and eunuchoid proportions.

  • Unusual, previously not described AIP variant with loss of the stop codon.

  • Phenocopy may occur in families with a disease-causing germline mutation.

Open access

Maria Cabrer, Guillermo Serra, María Soledad Gogorza and Vicente Pereg

Summary

Chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2DS) is a genetic syndrome that may present with hypocalcemia due to primary hypoparathyroidism (PH) at any age. We report a new diagnosis of 22q11.2DS in a 57-year-old man who presented with symptomatic hypocalcemia. It is important to consider genetic causes of hypocalcemia due to PH regardless of age.

Learning points:

  • It is important to discard genetic cause of primary hypoparathyroidism in a patient without autoimmune disease or prior neck surgery.

  • A new diagnosis of a hereditary disease has familial implications and needs genetic counselling.

  • It is also important to discard other syndrome’s comorbidities.

Open access

Tess Jacob, Renee Garrick and Michael D Goldberg

Summary

Metformin is recommended as the first-line agent for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Although this drug has a generally good safety profile, rare but potentially serious adverse effects may occur. Metformin-associated lactic acidosis, although very uncommon, carries a significant risk of mortality. The relationship between metformin accumulation and lactic acidosis is complex and is affected by the presence of comorbid conditions such as renal and hepatic disease. Plasma metformin levels do not reliably correlate with the severity of lactic acidosis. We present a case of inadvertent metformin overdose in a patient with both renal failure and hepatic cirrhosis, leading to two episodes of lactic acidosis and hypoglycemia. The patient was successfully treated with hemodialysis both times and did not develop any further lactic acidosis or hypoglycemia, after the identification of metformin tablets accidentally mixed in with his supply of sevelamer tablets. Early initiation of renal replacement therapy is key in decreasing lactic acidosis-associated mortality.

Learning points:

  • When a toxic ingestion is suspected, direct visualization of the patient’s pills is advised in order to rule out the possibility of patient- or pharmacist-related medication errors.

  • Though sending a specimen for determination of the plasma metformin concentration is important when a metformin-treated patient with diabetes presents with lactic acidosis, complex relationships exist between metformin accumulation, hyperlactatemia and acidosis, and the drug may not always be the precipitating factor.

  • Intermittent hemodialysis is recommended as the first-line treatment for metformin-associated lactic acidosis (MALA).

  • An investigational delayed-release form of metformin with reduced systemic absorption may carry a lower risk for MALA in patients with renal insufficiency, in whom metformin therapy may presently be contraindicated.

Open access

Tessa Glyn, Beverley Harris and Kate Allen

Summary

We present the case of a 57-year-old lady who had a delayed diagnosis of central hypothyroidism on a background of Grave’s thyrotoxicosis and a partial thyroidectomy. During the twenty years following her partial thyroidectomy, the patient developed a constellation of symptoms and new diagnoses, which were investigated by numerous specialists from various fields, namely rheumatology, renal and respiratory. She developed significantly impaired renal function and raised creatine kinase (CK). She was also referred to a tertiary neurology service for investigation of myositis, which resulted in inconclusive muscle biopsies. Recurrently normal TSH results reassured clinicians that this did not relate to previous thyroid dysfunction. In 2015, she developed increased shortness of breath and was found to have a significant pericardial effusion. The clinical biochemist reviewed this lady’s blood results and elected to add on a free T4 (fT4) and free T3 (fT3), which were found to be <0.4 pmol/L (normal range (NR): 12–22 pmol/L) and 0.3 pmol/L (NR: 3.1–6.8 pmol/L), respectively. She was referred urgently to the endocrine services and commenced on Levothyroxine replacement for profound central hypothyroidism. Her other pituitary hormones and MRI were normal. In the following year, her eGFR and CK normalised, and her myositis symptoms, breathlessness and pericardial effusion resolved. One year following initiation of Levothyroxine, her fT4 and fT3 were in the normal range for the first time. This case highlights the pitfalls of relying purely on TSH for excluding hypothyroidism and the devastating effect the delay in diagnosis had upon this patient.

Learning points:

  • Isolated central hypothyroidism is very rare, but should be considered irrespective of previous thyroid disorders.

  • If clinicians have a strong suspicion that a patient may have hypothyroidism despite normal TSH, they should ensure they measure fT3 and fT4.

  • Laboratories that do not perform fT3 and fT4 routinely should review advice sent to requesting clinicians to include a statement explaining that a normal TSH excludes primary but not secondary hypothyroidism.

  • Thyroid function tests should be performed routinely in patients presenting with renal impairment or a raised CK.

Open access

Kursad Unluhizarci, Hulya Akgun, Bahadır Oz, Zuleyha Karaca, Fatih Tanriverdi and Fahrettin Kelestimur

Summary

Among various substances produced by C-cells, the most important one is calcitonin (CT) that is used for detection, post-operative follow-up and evaluation of individuals at risk of developing medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC). However, the role of serum CT measurement in the evaluation of thyroid nodules has been widely discussed, and there is still no consensus about the role of CT in the initial evaluation of all thyroid nodules. Two patients with thyroid nodules whose fine-needle aspiration results were compatible with benign cytology besides having mildly elevated basal serum calcitonin levels were reported. Calcitonin responses (peak levels were 313 and 229 pg/mL, respectively) to calcium stimulation test were compatible with the possible diagnosis of MTC. However, the final diagnosis was papillary thyroid carcinoma of the thyroid gland. There are limited numbers of case reports showing such an increased serum calcitonin responses to calcium stimulation test associated with papillary or follicular thyroid carcinoma of the thyroid. We suggest to measure serum CT level once and in case of normal levels, no further CT measurement is necessary. Physicians should keep in mind that thyroid carcinomas other than MTCs may also be associated with high serum CT levels.

Learning points:

  • Although serum calcitonin is a valuable tumor marker for MTC, it is well known that mild elevations may be seen in some other diseases such as Hashimoto thyroiditis, neuroendocrine tumors or due to medications such as proton pump inhibitors, calcium salts, beta blockers and glucocorticoids.

  • Those two cases indicate that high calcitonin responses to calcium stimulation test, mimicking MTC, may also be seen in patients with papillary thyroid carcinoma although the mechanism is not clear.