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Open access

Snezana Burmazovic, Christoph Henzen, Lukas Brander and Luca Cioccari

Summary

The combination of hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state and central diabetes insipidus is unusual and poses unique diagnostic and therapeutic challenges for clinicians. In a patient with diabetes mellitus presenting with polyuria and polydipsia, poor glycaemic control is usually the first aetiology that is considered, and achieving glycaemic control remains the first course of action. However, severe hypernatraemia, hyperglycaemia and discordance between urine-specific gravity and urine osmolality suggest concurrent symptomatic diabetes insipidus. We report a rare case of concurrent manifestation of hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state and central diabetes insipidus in a patient with a history of craniopharyngioma.

Learning points:

  • In patients with diabetes mellitus presenting with polyuria and polydipsia, poor glycaemic control is usually the first aetiology to be considered.

  • However, a history of craniopharyngioma, severe hypernatraemia, hyperglycaemia and discordance between urine-specific gravity and osmolality provide evidence of concurrent diabetes insipidus.

  • Therefore, if a patient with diabetes mellitus presents with severe hypernatraemia, hyperglycaemia, a low or low normal urinary-specific gravity and worsening polyuria despite correction of hyperglycaemia, concurrent diabetes insipidus should be sought.

Open access

Lukas Burget, Laura Audí Parera, Monica Fernandez-Cancio, Rolf Gräni, Christoph Henzen and Christa E Flück

Summary

Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (STAR) is a key protein for the intracellular transport of cholesterol to the mitochondrium in endocrine organs (e.g. adrenal gland, ovaries, testes) and essential for the synthesis of all steroid hormones. Several mutations have been described and the clinical phenotype varies strongly and may be grouped into classic lipoid congenital adrenal hyperplasia (LCAH), in which all steroidogenesis is disrupted, and non-classic LCAH, which resembles familial glucocorticoid deficiency (FGD), which affects predominantly adrenal functions. Classic LCAH is characterized by early and potentially life-threatening manifestation of primary adrenal insufficiency (PAI) with electrolyte disturbances and 46,XY disorder of sex development (DSD) in males as well as lack of pubertal development in both sexes. Non-classic LCAH manifests usually later in life with PAI. Nevertheless, life-long follow-up of gonadal function is warranted. We describe a 26-year-old female patient who was diagnosed with PAI early in life without detailed diagnostic work-up. At the age of 14 months, she presented with hyperpigmentation, elevated ACTH and low cortisol levels. As her older brother was diagnosed with PAI two years earlier, she was put on hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone replacement therapy before an Addisonian crisis occurred. Upon review of her case in adulthood, consanguinity was noted in the family. Genetic analysis for PAI revealed a homozygous mutation in the STAR gene (c.562C>T, p.Arg188Cys) in both siblings. This mutation has been previously described in non-classic LCAH. This case illustrates that early onset, familial PAI is likely due to autosomal recessive genetic mutations in known genes causing PAI.

Learning points:

  • In childhood-onset PAI, a genetic cause is most likely, especially in families with consanguinity.

  • Adult patients with an etiologically unsolved PAI should be reviewed repeatedly and genetic work-up should be considered.

  • Knowing the exact genetic diagnosis in PAI is essential for genetic counselling and may allow disease-specific treatment.

  • Young men and women with NCLAH due to homozygous STAR Arg188Cys mutation should be investigated for their gonadal function as hypogonadism and infertility might occur during puberty or in early adulthood.

Open access

Regina Streuli, Ina Krull, Michael Brändle, Walter Kolb, Günter Stalla, Marily Theodoropoulou, Annette Enzler-Tschudy and Stefan Bilz

Summary

Ectopic ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumors are a very rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome and only a few cases have been reported in the literature. Differentiating between Cushing’s disease and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome may be particularly difficult if predominant ectopic CRH secretion leads to pituitary corticotroph hyperplasia that may mimic Cushing’s disease during dynamic testing with both dexamethasone and CRH as well as bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BIPSS). We present the case of a 24-year-old man diagnosed with ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome caused by an ACTH/CRH co-secreting midgut NET. Both high-dose dexamethasone testing and BIPSS suggested Cushing’s disease. However, the clinical presentation with a rather rapid onset of cushingoid features, hyperpigmentation and hypokalemia led to the consideration of ectopic ACTH/CRH-secretion and prompted a further workup. Computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen revealed a cecal mass which was identified as a predominantly CRH-secreting neuroendocrine tumor. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first reported case of an ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumor of the cecum presenting with biochemical features suggestive of Cushing’s disease.

Learning points:

  • The discrimination between a Cushing’s disease and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome is challenging and has many caveats.

  • Ectopic ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumors are very rare.

  • Dynamic tests as well as BIPSS may be compatible with Cushing’s disease in ectopic CRH-secretion.

  • High levels of CRH may induce hyperplasia of the corticotroph cells in the pituitary. This could be the cause of a preserved pituitary response to dexamethasone and CRH.

  • Clinical features of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism with rapid development of Cushing’s syndrome, hyperpigmentation, high circulating levels of cortisol with associated hypokalemia, peripheral edema and proximal myopathy should be a warning flag of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome and lead to further investigations.

Open access

Julien Ducry, Fulgencio Gomez, John O Prior, Ariane Boubaker, Maurice Matter, Matteo Monti, Yan Pu, Nelly Pitteloud and Luc Portmann

Summary

Ectopic ACTH Cushing's syndrome (EAS) is often caused by neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) of lungs, pancreas, thymus, and other less frequent locations. Localizing the source of ACTH can be challenging. A 64-year-old man presented with rapidly progressing fatigue, muscular weakness, and dyspnea. He was in poor condition and showed facial redness, proximal amyotrophy, and bruises. Laboratory disclosed hypokalemia, metabolic alkalosis, and markedly elevated ACTH and cortisol levels. Pituitary was normal on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and bilateral inferior petrosal sinus blood sampling with corticotropin-releasing hormone stimulation showed no significant central-to-periphery gradient of ACTH. Head and neck, thoracic and abdominal computerized tomography (CT), MRI, somatostatin receptor scintigraphy (SSRS), and 18F-deoxyglucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) failed to identify the primary tumor. 18F-dihydroxyphenylalanine (F-DOPA)-PET/CT unveiled a 20-mm nodule in the jejunum and a metastatic lymph node. Segmental jejunum resection showed two adjacent NETs, measuring 2.0 and 0.5 cm with a peritoneal metastasis. The largest tumor expressed ACTH in 30% of cells. Following surgery, after a transient adrenal insufficiency, ACTH and cortisol levels returned to normal values and remain normal over a follow-up of 26 months. Small mid-gut NETs are difficult to localize on CT or MRI, and require metabolic imaging. Owing to low mitotic activity, NETs are generally poor candidates for FDG-PET, whereas SSRS shows poor sensitivity in EAS due to intrinsically low tumor concentration of type-2 somatostatin receptors (SST2) or to receptor down regulation by excess cortisol. However, F-DOPA-PET, which is related to amine precursor uptake by NETs, has been reported to have high positive predictive value for occult EAS despite low sensitivity, and constitutes a useful alternative to more conventional methods of tumor localization.

Learning points

  • Uncontrolled high cortisol levels in EAS can be lethal if untreated.

  • Surgical excision is the keystone of NETs treatment, thus tumor localization is crucial.

  • Most cases of EAS are caused by NETs, which are located mainly in the lungs. However, small gut NETs are elusive to conventional imaging and require metabolic imaging for detection.

  • FDG-PET, based on tumor high metabolic rate, may not detect NETs that have low mitotic activity. SSRS may also fail, due to absent or low concentration of SST2, which may be down regulated by excess cortisol.

  • F-DOPA-PET, based on amine-precursor uptake, can be a useful method to localize the occult source of ACTH in EAS when other methods have failed.

Open access

Sophie Comte-Perret, Anne Zanchi and Fulgencio Gomez

Summary

Medical therapy for Cushing's syndrome due to bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (BMAH) is generally administered for a limited time before surgery. Aberrant receptors antagonists show inconsistent efficacy in the long run to prevent adrenalectomy. We present a patient with BMAH, treated for 10 years with low doses of ketoconazole to control cortisol secretion. A 48-year-old woman presented with headaches and hypertension. Investigations showed the following: no clinical signs of Cushing's syndrome; enlarged lobulated adrenals; normal creatinine, potassium, and aldosterone; normal urinary aldosterone and metanephrines; elevated urinary free cortisol and steroid metabolites; and suppressed plasma renin activity and ACTH. A screening protocol for aberrant adrenal receptors failed to show any illegitimate hormone dependence. Ketoconazole caused rapid normalisation of cortisol and ACTH that persists over 10 years on treatment, while adrenals show no change in shape or size. Ketoconazole decreases cortisol in patients with Cushing's syndrome, and may prevent adrenal overgrowth. Steroid secretion in BMAH is inefficient as compared with normal adrenals or secreting tumours and can be controlled with low, well-tolerated doses of ketoconazole, as an alternative to surgery.

Learning points

  • Enlarged, macronodular adrenals are often incidentally found during the investigation of hypertension in patients harboring BMAH. Although laboratory findings include low ACTH and elevated cortisol, the majority of patients do not display cushingoid features.

  • Bilateral adrenalectomy, followed by life-long steroid replacement, is the usual treatment of this benign condition, and alternative medical therapy is sought. Therapy based on aberrant adrenal receptors gives disappointing results, and inhibitors of steroidogenesis are not always well tolerated.

  • However, ketoconazole at low, well-tolerated doses appeared appropriate to control adrenal steroid secretion indefinitely, while preventing adrenal overgrowth. This treatment probably constitutes the most convenient long-term alternative to surgery.