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Open access

N F Lenders and J R Greenfield

Summary

Adrenal oncocytomas are rare tumours, with only approximately 160 cases reported in the literature. We report the use of urinary steroid profiling as part of their diagnostic evaluation and prognostication. A 45-year-old woman presented with clinical features of hyperandrogenism. Serum biochemistry confirmed androgen excess and computed tomography (CT) demonstrated a 3.2 cm adrenal tumour with density 39 HU pre-contrast. Urine steroid profiling showed elevated tetrahydro-11 deoxycortisol (THS), which is associated with adrenal malignancy. Laparoscopic adrenalectomy was performed, and histopathology diagnosed adrenal oncocytoma. Serum and urinary biochemistry resolved post-operatively and remained normal at 1-year follow-up.

Learning points:

  • Differential diagnosis of adrenal masses is challenging. Current techniques for differentiating between tumour types lack sensitivity and specificity.
  • 24-h urinary steroid profiling is a useful tool for reflecting steroid output from adrenal glands. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) of urinary steroid metabolites has sensitivity and specificity of 90% for diagnosing adrenocortical carcinoma.
  • Adrenal oncocytoma are rare tumours. Differentiating between benign and malignant types is difficult. Data guiding prognostication and management are sparse.
Open access

Karen Decaestecker, Veerle Wijtvliet, Peter Coremans and Nike Van Doninck

Summary

ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism is caused by an ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) in 20% of cases. We report a rare cause of EAS in a 41-year-old woman, presenting with clinical features of Cushing’s syndrome which developed over several months. Biochemical tests revealed hypokalemic metabolic alkalosis and high morning cortisol and ACTH levels. Further testing, including 24-hour urine analysis, late-night saliva and low-dose dexamethasone suppression test, confirmed hypercortisolism. An MRI of the pituitary gland was normal. Inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS) revealed inconsistent results, with a raised basal gradient but no rise after CRH stimulation. Additional PET-CT showed intense metabolic activity in the left nasal vault. Biopsy of this lesion revealed an unsuspected cause of Cushing’s syndrome: an olfactory neuroblastoma (ONB) with positive immunostaining for ACTH. Our patient underwent transnasal resection of the tumour mass, followed by adjuvant radiotherapy. Normalisation of cortisol and ACTH levels was seen immediately after surgery. Hydrocortisone substitution was started to prevent withdrawal symptoms. As the hypothalamic–pituitary–axis slowly recovered, daily hydrocortisone doses were tapered and stopped 4 months after surgery. Clinical Cushing’s stigmata improved gradually.

Learning points:

  • Ectopic ACTH syndrome can originate from tumours outside the thoracoabdominal region, like the sinonasal cavity.
  • The diagnostic accuracy of IPSS is not 100%: both false positives and false negatives may occur and might be due to a sinonasal tumour with ectopic ACTH secretion.
  • Olfactory neuroblastoma (syn. esthesioneuroblastoma), named because of its sensory (olfactory) and neuroectodermal origin in the upper nasal cavity, is a rare malignant neoplasm. It should not be confused with neuroblastoma, a tumour of the sympathetic nervous system typically occurring in children.
  • If one criticises MRI of the pituitary gland because of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism, one should take a close look at the sinonasal field as well.
Open access

Sharmin Jahan, M A Hasanat, Tahseen Mahmood, Shahed Morshed, Raziul Haq and Md Fariduddin

Summary

Silent corticotroph adenoma (SCA) is an unusual type of nonfunctioning pituitary adenoma (NFA) that is silent both clinically and biochemically and can only be recognized by positive immunostaining for ACTH. Under rare circumstances, it can transform into hormonally active disease presenting with severe Cushing syndrome. It might often produce diagnostic dilemma with difficult management issue if not thoroughly investigated and subtyped accordingly following surgery. Here, we present a 21-year-old male who initially underwent pituitary adenomectomy for presumed NFA with compressive symptoms. However, he developed recurrent and invasive macroadenoma with severe clinical as well as biochemical hypercortisolism during post-surgical follow-up. Repeat pituitary surgery was carried out urgently as there was significant optic chiasmal compression. Immunohistochemical analysis of the tumor tissue obtained on repeat surgery proved it to be an aggressive corticotroph adenoma. Though not cured, he showed marked clinical and biochemical improvement in the immediate postoperative period. Anticipating recurrence from the residual tumor, we referred him for cyber knife radio surgery.

Learning points:

  • Pituitary NFA commonly present with compressive symptoms such as headache and blurred vision.
  • Post-surgical development of Cushing syndrome in such a case could be either drug induced or endogenous.
  • In the presence of recurrent pituitary tumor, ACTH-dependent Cushing syndrome indicates CD.
  • Rarely a SCA presenting initially as NFA can transform into an active corticotroph adenoma.
  • Immunohistochemical marker for ACTH in the resected tumor confirms the diagnosis.
Open access

Stephanie Wei Ping Wong, Yew Wen Yap, Ram Prakash Narayanan, Mohammad Al-Jubouri, Ashley Grossman, Christina Daousi and Yahya Mahgoub

Summary

We report our experience on managing a case of florid Cushing’s disease with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) sepsis using intravenous etomidate in the intensive care unit of a UK district general hospital.

Learning points:

  • Severe Cushing’s syndrome is associated with high morbidity and mortality.
  • Etomidate is a safe and effective medical therapy to rapidly lower cortisol levels even in the context of severe sepsis and immunosuppression.
  • Etomidate should ideally be administered in an intensive care unit but is still feasible in a district general hospital.
  • During treatment with etomidate, accumulation of serum 11β-deoxycortisol (11DOC) levels can cross-react with laboratory cortisol measurement leading to falsely elevated serum cortisol levels. For this reason, serum cortisol measurement using a mass spectrometry assay should ideally be used to guide etomidate prescription.
Open access

Punith Kempegowda, Lauren Quinn, Lisa Shepherd, Samina Kauser, Briony Johnson, Alex Lawson and Andrew Bates

Summary

A 62-year-old Asian British female presented with increasing tiredness. She had multiple co-morbidities and was prescribed steroid inhalers for asthma. She had also received short courses of oral prednisolone for acute asthma exacerbations in the last 2 years. Unfortunately, the frequency and dose of steroids for asthma was unclear from history. Her type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM) control had deteriorated over a short period of time (HbA1c: 48–85 mmol/mol). Blood tests revealed undetectable cortisol and ACTH (<28 mmol/L, <5.0 ng/L). Renin, electrolytes and thyroid function were within normal limits. A diagnosis of secondary adrenal insufficiency, likely due to long-term steroid inhaler and recurrent short courses of oral steroids for asthma exacerbations was made. Patient was commenced on hydrocortisone 10 mg, 5 mg and 5 mg regimen. Steroid inhaler was discontinued following consultation with respiratory physicians. Despite discontinuation of inhaled steroids, patient continued not to mount a response to Synacthen®. Upon further detailed history, patient admitted taking a ‘herbal’ preparation for chronic osteoarthritic knee pain. Toxicology analysis showed presence of dexamethasone, ciprofloxacin, paracetamol, diclofenac, ibuprofen and cimetidine in the herbal medication. Patient was advised to discontinue her herbal preparation. We believe the cause of secondary adrenal insufficiency in our patient was the herbal remedy containing dexamethasone, explaining persistent adrenal suppression despite discontinuation of all prescribed steroids, further possibly contributing to obesity, hypertension and suboptimal control of DM. In conclusion, a comprehensive drug history including herbal and over-the-counter preparations should be elucidated. Investigation for the presence of steroids in these preparations should be considered when patients persist to have secondary adrenal insufficiency despite discontinuation of prescribed steroid medications.

Learning points:

  • The likelihood of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) in medication-induced secondary adrenal insufficiency should be considered in any patient presenting with potential symptoms of adrenal insufficiency.
  • If the contents of CAM preparation cannot be ascertained, toxicology screening should be considered.
  • Patients should be advised to stop taking CAM preparation when it contains steroids and hydrocortisone replacement therapy commenced, with periodic reassessment of adrenal function, and then if indicated weaned accordingly.
  • Patients should be informed about the contents of CAM therapies, so they can make a truly informed choice regarding the risks and benefits.
  • This case also highlights a need to increase regulatory processes over CAM therapies, given their propensity to contain a number of undisclosed medications and potent steroids.
Open access

Marcela Rodríguez Flores, Ruth Carmina Cruz Soto, Verónica Vázquez Velázquez, Reina Ruth Soriano Cortés, Carlos Aguilar Salinas and Eduardo García García

Summary

In patients with gastric bypass (GB), high glucose variability (GV) and hypoglycemia have been demonstrated, which could impact the metabolic status and eating behavior. We describe the glucose patterns determined through continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) in two patients with >5 years follow-up after GB and significant weight recovery, who reported hypoglycemic symptoms that interfered with daily activities, and their response to a nutritional and psycho-educative prescription. Case 1: A 40-year-old woman without pre-surgical type 2 diabetes (T2DM) and normal HbA1c, in whom CGM showed high GV and hypoglycemic episodes that did not correlate with the time of hypoglycemic symptoms. Her GV reduced after prescription of a diet with low glycemic index and modification of meal patterns. Case 2: A 48-year-old male with pre-surgical diagnosis of T2DM and current normal HbA1c, reported skipping meals. The CGM showed high GV, 15% of time in hypoglycemia and hyperglycemic spikes. After prescription of a low glycemic index diet, his GV increased and time in hypoglycemia decreased. Through the detailed self-monitoring needed for CGM, we discovered severe anxiety symptoms, consumption of simple carbohydrates and lack of meal structure. He was referred for more intensive psychological counseling. In conclusion, CGM can detect disorders in glucose homeostasis derived both from the mechanisms of bariatric surgery, as well as the patient’s behaviors and mental health, improving decision-making during follow-up.

Learning points:

  • High glycemic variability is frequent in patients operated with gastric bypass.
  • Diverse eating patterns, such as prolonged fasting and simple carbohydrate ingestion, and mental health disorders, including anxiety, can promote and be confused with worsened hypoglycemia.
  • CGM requires a detailed record of food ingested that can be accompanied by associated factors (circumstances, eating patterns, emotional symptoms). This allows the detection of particular behaviors and amount of dietary simple carbohydrates to guide recommendations provided within clinical care of these patients.
Open access

Wei Yang, David Pham, Aren T Vierra, Sarah Azam, Dorina Gui and John C Yoon

Summary

Ectopic ACTH-secreting pulmonary neuroendocrine tumors are rare and account for less than 5% of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome cases. We describe an unusual case of metastatic bronchial carcinoid tumor in a young woman presenting with unprovoked pulmonary emboli, which initially prevented the detection of the primary tumor on imaging. The source of ectopic ACTH was ultimately localized by a Gallium-DOTATATE scan, which demonstrated increased tracer uptake in a right middle lobe lung nodule and multiple liver nodules. The histological diagnosis was established based on a core biopsy of a hepatic lesion and the patient was started on a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist and a somatostatin analog. This case illustrates that hypercogulability can further aggravate the diagnostic challenges in ectopic ACTH syndrome. We discuss the literature on the current diagnosis and management strategies for ectopic ACTH syndrome.

Learning points:

  • In a young patient with concurrent hypokalemia and uncontrolled hypertension on multiple antihypertensive agents, secondary causes of hypertension should be evaluated.
  • Patients with Cushing’s syndrome can develop an acquired hypercoagulable state leading to spontaneous and postoperative venous thromboembolism.
  • Pulmonary emboli may complicate the imaging of the bronchial carcinoid tumor in ectopic ACTH syndrome.
  • Imaging with Gallium-68 DOTATATE PET/CT scan has the highest sensitivity and specificity in detecting ectopic ACTH-secreting tumors.
  • A combination of various noninvasive biochemical tests can enhance the diagnostic accuracy in differentiating Cushing’s disease from ectopic ACTH syndrome provided they have concordant results. Bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling remains the gold standard.
Open access

Michelle Maher, Mohammed Faraz Rafey, Helena Griffin, Katie Cunningham and Francis M Finucane

Summary

A 45-year-old man with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes (T2DM) (HbA1c 87 mmol/mol) despite 100 units of insulin per day and severe obesity (BMI 40.2 kg/m2) was referred for bariatric intervention. He declined bariatric surgery or GLP1 agonist therapy. Initially, his glycaemic control improved with dietary modification and better adherence to insulin therapy, but he gained weight. We started a low-energy liquid diet, with 2.2 L of semi-skimmed milk (equivalent to 1012 kcal) per day for 8 weeks (along with micronutrient, salt and fibre supplementation) followed by 16 weeks of phased reintroduction of a normal diet. His insulin was stopped within a week of starting this programme, and over 6 months, he lost 20.6 kg and his HbA1c normalised. However, 1 year later, despite further weight loss, his HbA1c deteriorated dramatically, requiring introduction of linagliptin and canagliflozin, with good response. Five years after initial presentation, his BMI remains elevated but improved at 35.5 kg/m2 and his glycaemic control is excellent with a HbA1c of 50 mmol/mol and he is off insulin therapy. Whether semi-skimmed milk is a safe, effective substrate for carefully selected patients with severe obesity complicated by T2DM remains to be determined. Such patients would need frequent monitoring by an experienced multidisciplinary team.

Learning points:

  • Meal replacement programmes are an emerging therapeutic strategy to allow severely obese type 2 diabetes patients to achieve clinically impactful weight loss.
  • Using semi-skimmed milk as a meal replacement substrate might be less costly than commercially available programmes, but is likely to require intensive multidisciplinary bariatric clinical follow-up.
  • For severely obese adults with poor diabetes control who decline bariatric surgery or GLP1 agonist therapy, a milk-based meal replacement programme may be an option.
  • Milk-based meal replacement in patients with insulin requiring type 2 diabetes causes rapid and profound reductions in insulin requirements, so rigorous monitoring of glucose levels by patients and their clinicians is necessary.
  • In carefully selected and adequately monitored patients, the response to oral antidiabetic medications may help to differentiate between absolute and relative insulin deficiency.
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

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.