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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 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

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.

Open access

Katia Regina Marchetti, Maria Adelaide Albergaria Pereira, Arnaldo Lichtenstein and Edison Ferreira Paiva

Summary

Adrenacarcinomas are rare, and hypoglycemic syndrome resulting from the secretion of insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II) by these tumors have been described infrequently. This study describes the case of a young woman with severe persistent hypoglycemia and a large adrenal tumor and discusses the physiopathological mechanisms involved in hypoglycemia. The case is described as a 21-year-old woman who presented with 8 months of general symptoms and, in the preceding 3 months, with episodes of mental confusion and visual blurring secondary to hypoglycemia. A functional assessment of the adrenal cortex revealed ACTH-independent hypercortisolism and hyperandrogenism. Hypoglycemia, hypoinsulinemia, low C-peptide and no ketones were also detected. An evaluation of the GH–IGF axis revealed GH blockade (0.03; reference: up to 4.4 ng/mL), greatly reduced IGF-I levels (9.0 ng/mL; reference: 180–780 ng/mL), slightly reduced IGF-II levels (197 ng/mL; reference: 267–616 ng/mL) and an elevated IGF-II/IGF-I ratio (21.9; reference: ~3). CT scan revealed a large expansive mass in the right adrenal gland and pulmonary and liver metastases. During hospitalization, the patient experienced frequent difficult-to-control hypoglycemia and hypokalemia episodes. Octreotide was ineffective in controlling hypoglycemia. Due to unresectability, chemotherapy was tried, but after 3 months, the patient’s condition worsened and progressed to death. In conclusion, our patient presented with a functional adrenal cortical carcinoma, with hyperandrogenism associated with hypoinsulinemic hypoglycemia and blockage of the GH–IGF-I axis. Patient’s data suggested a diagnosis of hypoglycemia induced by an IGF-II or a large IGF-II-producing tumor (low levels of GH, greatly decreased IGF-I, slightly decreased IGF-II and an elevated IGF-II/IGF-I ratio).

Learning points:

  • Hypoglycemyndrome resulting from the secretion of insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II) by adrenal tumors is a rare condition.

  • Hypoinsulinemic hypoglycemia associated with hyperandrogenism and blockage of the GH–IGF-I axis suggests hypoglycemia induced by an IGF-II or a large IGF-II-producing tumor.

  • Hypoglycemia in cases of NICTH should be treated with glucocorticoids, glucagon, somatostatin analogs and hGH.

Open access

Asma Deeb, Hana Al Suwaidi, Salima Attia and Ahlam Al Ameri

Summary

Combined17α-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase deficiency is a rare cause of congenital adrenal hyperplasia and hypogonadism. Hypertension and hypokalemia are essential presenting features. We report an Arab family with four affected XX siblings. The eldest presented with abdominal pain and was diagnosed with a retroperitoneal malignant mixed germ cell tumour. She was hypertensive and hypogonadal. One sibling presented with headache due to hypertension while the other two siblings were diagnosed with hypertension on a routine school check. A homozygous R96Q missense mutation in P450c17 was detected in the index case who had primary amenorrhea and lack of secondary sexual characters at 17 years. The middle two siblings were identical twins and had no secondary sexual characters at the age of 14. All siblings had hypokalemia, very low level of adrenal androgens, high ACTH and high levels of aldosterone substrates. Treatment was commenced with steroid replacement and puberty induction with estradiol. The index case had surgical tumor resection and chemotherapy. All siblings required antihypertensive treatment and the oldest remained on two antihypertensive medications 12 years after diagnosis. Her breast development remained poor despite adequate hormonal replacement. Combined 17α-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase deficiency is a rare condition but might be underdiagnosed. It should be considered in young patients presenting with hypertension, particularly if there is a family history of consanguinity and with more than one affected sibling. Antihypertensive medication might continue to be required despite adequate steroid replacement. Breast development may remain poor in mutations causing complete form of the disease.

Learning points

  • Endocrine hypertension due to rarer forms of CAH should be considered in children and adolescents, particularly if more than one sibling is affected and in the presence of consanguinity.

  • 17α-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase deficiency is a rare form of CAH but might be underdiagnosed.

  • Blood pressure measurement should be carried out in all females presenting with hypogonadism.

  • Anti-hypertensive medications might be required despite adequate steroid replacement.

  • Initial presenting features might vary within affected members of the same family.

  • Adverse breast development might be seen in the complete enzyme deficiency forms of the disease.

Open access

Gautam Das, Peter N Taylor, Arshiya Tabasum, L N Rao Bondugulapati, Danny Parker, Piero Baglioni, Onyebuchi E Okosieme and David Scott Coombes

Summary

Resistant hypertension is often difficult to treat and may be associated with underlying primary aldosteronism (PA). We describe the case of an elderly gentleman who presented with severe and resistant hypertension and was found to have a left adrenal incidentaloma during evaluation but had aldosterone excess secondary to unilateral adrenal hyperplasia (UAH) of the contralateral gland, which needed surgical intervention. A 65-year-old gentleman was evaluated for uncontrolled high blood pressure (BP) in spite of taking four antihypertensive medications. The high BP was confirmed on a 24-h ambulatory reading, and further biochemical evaluation showed an elevated serum aldosterone renin ratio (ARR) (1577 pmol/l per ng per ml per h). Radiological evaluation showed an adrenal nodule (15 mm) in the left adrenal gland but an adrenal vein sampling demonstrated a lateralization towards the opposite site favouring the right adrenal to be the source of excess aldosterone. A laparoscopic right adrenalectomy was performed and the histology of the gland confirmed nodular hyperplasia. Following surgery, the patient's BP improved remarkably although he remained on antihypertensives and under regular endocrine follow-up. PA remains the most common form of secondary and difficult-to-treat hypertension. Investigations may reveal incidental adrenal lesions, which may not be the actual source of excess aldosterone, but UAH may be a contributor and may coexist and amenable to surgical treatment. An adrenal vein sampling should be undertaken for correct lateralization of the source, otherwise a correctable diagnosis may be missed and the incorrect adrenal gland may be removed.

Learning points

  • Severe and resistant hypertension can often be associated with underlying PA.

  • ARR is an excellent screening tool in patients with suspected PA.

  • Lateralization with adrenal venous sampling is essential to isolate the source and differentiate between unilateral and bilateral causes of hyperaldosteronism.

  • Adrenal incidentalomas and UAH may coexist and the latter may often be the sole cause of excess aldosterone secretion.

  • Decisions about adrenalectomy should be made only after integrating and interpreting radiological and biochemical test findings properly.

Open access

S Hussain, E Panteliou, D M Berney, R Carpenter, M Matson, A Sahdev, M Bell, E O'Sullivan and W M Drake

Summary

We describe a young male patient with longstanding hypertension, who was diagnosed with primary hyperaldosteronism and treated by an attempted retroperitoneoscopic total unilateral adrenalectomy for a left-sided presumed aldosterone-secreting adenoma. Imaging had shown an unremarkable focal adrenal lesion with normal contralateral adrenal morphology, and histology of the resected specimen showed no adverse features. Post-operatively, his blood pressure and serum aldosterone levels fell to the normal range, but 9 months later, his hypertension recurred, primary aldosteronism was again confirmed and he was referred to our centre. Repeat imaging demonstrated an irregular left-sided adrenal lesion with normal contralateral gland appearances. Adrenal venous sampling was performed, which supported unilateral (left-sided) aldosterone hypersecretion. Redo surgery via a laparoscopically assisted transperitoneal approach was performed and multiple nodules were noted extending into the retroperitoneum. It was thought unlikely that complete resection had been achieved. His blood pressure returned to normal post-operatively, although hypokalaemia persisted. Histological examination, from this second operation, showed features of an adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC; including increased mitoses and invasion of fat) that was assessed as malignant using the scoring systems of Weiss and Aubert. Biochemical hyperaldosteronism persisted post-operatively, and detailed urine steroid profiling showed no evidence of adrenal steroid precursors or other mineralocorticoid production. He received flank radiotherapy to the left adrenal bed and continues to receive adjunctive mitotane therapy for a diagnosis of a pure aldosterone-secreting ACC.

Learning points

  • Pure aldosterone-secreting ACCs are exceptionally uncommon, but should be considered in the differential diagnosis of patients presenting with primary aldosteronism.

  • Aldosterone-producing ACCs may not necessarily show typical radiological features consistent with malignancy.

  • Patients who undergo surgical treatment for primary aldosteronism should have follow-up measurements of blood pressure to monitor for disease recurrence, even if post-operative normotension is thought to indicate a surgical ‘cure’.

  • Owing to the rarity of such conditions, a greater understanding of their natural history is likely to come from wider cooperation with, and contribution to, large multi-centre outcomes databases.

Open access

Omayma Elshafie, Yahya Al Badaai, Khalifa Alwahaibi, Asim Qureshi, Samir Hussein, Faisal Al Azzri, Ali Almamari and Nicholas Woodhouse

Summary

A 48-year-old hypertensive and diabetic patient presented with a 10-year history of progressive right facial pain, tinnitus, hearing loss, sweating, and palpitations. Investigations revealed a 5.6 cm vascular tumor at the carotid bifurcation. Her blood pressure (BP) was 170/110, on lisinopril 20 mg od and amlodipine 10 mg od and 100 U of insulin daily. A catecholamine-secreting carotid body paraganglioma (CSCBP) was suspected; the diagnosis was confirmed biochemically by determining plasma norepinephrine (NE) level, 89 000 pmol/l, and chromogranin A (CgA) level, 279 μg/l. Meta-iodobenzylguanidine and octreotide scanning confirmed a single tumor in the neck. A week after giving the patient a trial of octreotide 100 μg 8 h, the NE level dropped progressively from 50 000 to 25 000 pmol/l and CgA from 279 to 25 μg/l. Treatment was therefore continued with labetalol 200 mg twice daily (bid) and long-acting octreotide-LA initially using 40 mg/month and later increasing to 80 mg/month. On this dose and with a reduced labetalol intake of 100 mg bid, BP was maintained at 130/70 and her symptoms resolved completely. CgA levels returned to normal in the first week and these were maintained throughout the 3 month treatment period. During tumor resection, there were minimal BP fluctuations during the 10 h procedure. We conclude that short-term high-dose octreotide-LA might prove valuable in the preoperative management of catecholamine-secreting tumors. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report on the successful use of octreotide in a CSCBP.

Learning points

  • The value of octreotide scanning in the localization of extra-adrenal pheochromocytoma.

  • Control of catecholamine secretion using high-dose octreotide.

  • This is a report of a rare cause of secondary diabetes and hypertension.