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Open access

Florence Gunawan, Elizabeth George and Adam Roberts

Summary

Immune checkpoint inhibitors are the mainstay of treatment for advanced melanoma, and their use is being increasingly implicated in the development of autoimmune endocrinopathies. We present a case of a 52-year-old man with metastatic melanoma on combination nivolumab and ipilumimab therapy who developed concurrent hypophysitis, type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) and diabetes insipidus. He presented prior to third cycle of combination treatment with a headache, myalgias and fatigue. Biochemistry and MRI pituitary confirmed anterior pituitary dysfunction with a TSH: 0.02 mU/L (0.5–5.5 mU/L), fT4: 5.2 pmol/L (11–22 pmol/L), fT3: 4.0 pmol/L (3.2–6.4 pmol/L), cortisol (12:00 h): <9 nmol/L (74–286 nmol/L), FSH: 0.7 IU/L (1.5–9.7 IU/L), LH: <0.1 IU/L (1.8–9.2 IU/L), PRL: 1 mIU/L (90–400 mIU/L), SHBG: 34 nmol/L (19–764 nmol/L) and total testosterone: <0.4 nmol/L (9.9–27.8 nmol/L). High-dose dexamethasone (8 mg) was administered followed by hydrocortisone, thyroxine and topical testosterone replacement. Two weeks post administration of the third cycle, he became unwell with lethargy, weight loss and nocturia. Central diabetes insipidus was diagnosed on the basis of symptoms and sodium of 149 mmol/L (135–145 mmol/L). Desmopressin nasal spray was instituted with symptom resolution and normalization of serum sodium. Three weeks later, he presented again polyuric and polydipsic. His capillary glucose was 20.8 mmol/L (ketones of 2.4 mmol), low C-peptide 0.05 nmol/L (0.4–1.5 nmol/L) and HbA1c of 7.7%. T1DM was suspected, and he was commenced on an insulin infusion with rapid symptom resolution. Insulin antibodies glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), insulin antibody-2 (IA-2) and zinc transporter-8 (ZnT8) were negative. A follow-up MRI pituitary revealed findings consistent with recovering autoimmune hypophysitis. Immunotherapy was discontinued based on the extent of these autoimmune endocrinopathies.

Learning points:

  • The most effective regime for treatment of metastatic melanoma is combination immunotherapy with nivolumab and ipilumimab, and this therapy is associated with a high incidence of autoimmune endocrinopathies.

  • Given the high prevalence of immune-related adverse events, the threshold for functional testing should be low.

  • Traditional antibody testing may not be reliable to identify early-onset endocrinopathy.

  • Routine screening pathways have yet to be adequately validated through clinical trials.

Open access

Elise Flynn, Sara Baqar, Dorothy Liu, Elif I Ekinci, Stephen Farrell, Jeffrey D Zajac, Mario De Luise and Ego Seeman

Summary

ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma (ASP) is a rare cause of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (CS). We report the case of a 63-year-old female presenting with CS secondary to an ASP complicated by bowel perforation. This case report highlights ASP as an uncommon but important cause of ectopic ACTH secretion (EAS). There have been 29 cases of ASP, all of which were unilateral and benign, but associated with significant complications. Patients presenting with ASP have the potential for cure with unilateral adrenalectomy. Given this promising prognosis if recognised, ASP should be considered in the diagnostic workup of ACTH-dependent CS. As this case demonstrates, gastrointestinal complications can arise from severe hypercortisolaemia associated with CS. Early medical and surgical intervention is imperative as mortality approaches 50% once bowel perforation occurs.

Learning points

  • Consider phaeochromocytoma in the diagnostic workup of ACTH-dependent CS; screen with plasma metanephrines or urinary catecholamines.

  • Serial screening may be required if ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma is suspected, as absolute levels can be misleading.

  • Early catecholamine receptor blockade and adrenal synthesis blockade may avoid the need for rescue bilateral adrenalectomy in ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma.

  • Consider early medical or surgical management when gastrointestinal features are present in patients with CS, as bowel perforation due to severe hypercortisolaemia can occur and is associated with significant mortality.

Open access

Kharis Burns, Darshika Christie-David and Jenny E Gunton

Summary

Ketoconazole was a first-line agent for suppressing steroidogenesis in Cushing's disease. It now has limited availability. Fluconazole, another azole antifungal, is an alternative, although its in vivo efficacy is unclear. A 61-year-old female presented with weight gain, abdominal striae and worsening depression. HbA1c increased to 76 mmol/mol despite increasing insulin. Investigations confirmed cortisol excess; afternoon serum cortisol was 552 nmol/l with an inappropriate ACTH of 9.3 pmol/l. In total, 24-h urinary free cortisol (UFC):creatinine ratio was 150 nmol/mmol with failure to suppress after 48 h of low-dose dexamethasone. Pituitary MRI revealed a 4-mm microadenoma. Inferior petrosal sinus sampling confirmed Cushing's disease. Transsphenoidal resection was performed and symptoms improved. However, disease recurred 6 months later with elevated 24-h UFC >2200 nmol/day. Metyrapone was commenced at 750 mg tds. Ketoconazole was later added at 400 mg daily, with dose reduction in metyrapone. When ketoconazole became unavailable, fluconazole 200 mg daily was substituted. Urine cortisol:creatinine ratio rose, and the dose was increased to 400 mg daily with normalisation of urine hormone levels. Serum cortisol and urine cortisol:creatinine ratios remain normal on this regimen at 6 months. In conclusion, to our knowledge, this is the first case demonstrating prolonged in vivo efficacy of fluconazole in combination with low-dose metyrapone for the treatment of Cushing's disease. Fluconazole has a more favourable toxicity profile, and we suggest that it is a potential alternative for medical management of Cushing's disease.

Learning points

  • Surgery remains first line for the management of Cushing's disease with pharmacotherapy used where surgery is unsuccessful or there is persistence of cortisol excess.

  • Ketoconazole has previously been used to treat cortisol excess through inhibition of CYP450 enzymes 11-β-hydroxylase and 17-α-hydroxylase, though its availability is limited in many countries.

  • Fluconazole shares similar properties to ketoconazole, although it has less associated toxicity.

  • Fluconazole represents a suitable alternative for the medical management of Cushing's disease and proved an effective addition to metyrapone in the management of this case.

Open access

Harish Venugopal, Katherine Griffin and Saima Amer

Summary

Resection of primary tumour is the management of choice in patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome. However, tumours may remain unidentified or occult in spite of extensive efforts at trying to locate them. This can, therefore, pose a major management issue as uncontrolled hypercortisolaemia can lead to life-threatening infections. We present the case of a 66-year-old gentleman with ectopic ACTH syndrome from an occult primary tumour with multiple significant complications from hypercortisolaemia. Ectopic nature of his ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome was confirmed by non-suppression with high-dose dexamethasone suppression test and bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling. The primary ectopic source remained unidentified in spite of extensive anatomical and functional imaging studies, including CT scans and Dotatate-PET scan. Medical adrenolytic treatment at maximum tolerated doses failed to control his hypercortisolaemia, which led to recurrent intra-abdominal and pelvic abscesses, requiring multiple surgical interventions. Laparoscopic bilateral adrenalectomy was considered but decided against given concerns of technical difficulties due to recurrent intra-abdominal infections and his moribund state. Eventually, alcohol ablation of adrenal glands by retrograde adrenal vein approach was attempted, which resulted in biochemical remission of Cushing's syndrome. Our case emphasizes the importance of aggressive management of hypercortisolaemia in order to reduce the associated morbidity and mortality and also demonstrates that techniques like percutaneous adrenal ablation using a retrograde venous approach may be extremely helpful in patients who are otherwise unable to undergo bilateral adrenalectomy.

Learning points

  • Evaluation and management of patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome from an unidentified primary tumour can be very challenging.

  • Persisting hypercortisolaemia in this setting can lead to debilitating and even life-threatening complications and hence needs to be managed aggressively.

  • Bilateral adrenalectomy should be considered when medical treatment is ineffective or poorly tolerated.

  • Percutaneous adrenal ablation may be considered in patients who are otherwise unable to undergo bilateral adrenalectomy.

Open access

Avinash Suryawanshi, Timothy Middleton and Kirtan Ganda

Summary

X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD) is a rare genetic condition caused by mutations in the ABCD1 gene that result in accumulation of very long chain fatty acids (VLCFAs) in various tissues. This leads to demyelination in the CNS and impaired steroidogenesis in the adrenal cortex and testes. A 57-year-old gentleman was referred for the assessment of bilateral gynaecomastia of 6 months duration. He had skin hyperpigmentation since 4 years of age and spastic paraparesis for the past 15 years. Physical examination findings included generalised hyperpigmentation (including skin, buccal mucosa and palmar creases), blood pressure of 90/60 mmHg, non-tender gynaecomastia and bilateral hypoplastic testes. Lower limb findings were those of a profoundly ataxic gait associated with significant paraparesis and sensory loss. Primary adrenal insufficiency was confirmed and investigations for gynaecomastia revealed normal testosterone with mildly elevated luteinising hormone level and normal prolactin. The combination of primary adrenal insufficiency (likely childhood onset), partial testicular failure (leading to gynaecomastia) and spastic paraparesis suggested X-ALD as a unifying diagnosis. A serum VLCFA panel was consistent with X-ALD. Subsequent genetic testing confirmed the diagnosis. Treatment with replacement doses of corticosteroid resulted in improvement in blood pressure and increased energy levels. We have reported the case of a 57-year-old man with a very late diagnosis of X-ALD manifested by childhood onset of primary adrenal insufficiency followed by paraparesis and primary hypogonadism in adulthood. Thus, X-ALD should be considered as a possibility in a patient with non-autoimmune primary adrenal insufficiency and neurological abnormalities.

Learning points

  • Adult patients with X-ALD may be misdiagnosed as having multiple sclerosis or idiopathic spastic paraparesis for many years before the correct diagnosis is identified.

  • Screening for X-ALD with a VLCFA panel should be strongly considered in male children with primary adrenal insufficiency and in male adults presenting with non-autoimmune primary adrenal insufficiency.

  • Confirmation of a genetic diagnosis of X-ALD can be very useful for a patient's family as genetic testing enables detection of pre-symptomatic female heterozygotes who can then be offered pre-natal testing to avoid transmission of the disease to male offsprings.

Open access

Rémi Goupil, Martin Wolley, Jacobus Ungerer, Brett McWhinney, Kuniaki Mukai, Mitsuhide Naruse, Richard D Gordon and Michael Stowasser

Summary

In patients with primary aldosteronism (PA) undergoing adrenal venous sampling (AVS), cortisol levels are measured to assess lateralization of aldosterone overproduction. Concomitant adrenal autonomous cortisol and aldosterone secretion therefore have the potential to confound AVS results. We describe a case where metanephrine was measured during AVS to successfully circumvent this problem. A 55-year-old hypertensive male had raised plasma aldosterone/renin ratios and PA confirmed by fludrocortisone suppression testing. Failure of plasma cortisol to suppress overnight following dexamethasone and persistently suppressed corticotrophin were consistent with adrenal hypercortisolism. On AVS, comparison of adrenal and peripheral A/F ratios (left 5.7 vs peripheral 1.0; right 1.7 vs peripheral 1.1) suggested bilateral aldosterone production, with the left gland dominant but without contralateral suppression. However, using aldosterone/metanephrine ratios (left 9.7 vs peripheral 2.4; right 1.3 vs peripheral 2.5), aldosterone production lateralized to the left with good contralateral suppression. The patient underwent left laparoscopic adrenalectomy with peri-operative glucocorticoid supplementation to prevent adrenal insufficiency. Pathological examination revealed adrenal cortical adenomas producing both cortisol and aldosterone within a background of aldosterone-producing cell clusters. Hypertension improved and cured of PA and hypercortisolism were confirmed by negative post-operative fludrocortisone suppression and overnight 1 mg dexamethasone suppression testing. Routine dexamethasone suppression testing in patients with PA permits detection of concurrent hypercortisolism which can confound AVS results and cause unilateral PA to be misdiagnosed as bilateral with patients thereby denied potentially curative surgical treatment. In such patients, measurement of plasma metanephrine during AVS may overcome this issue.

Learning points

  • Simultaneous autonomous overproduction of cortisol and aldosterone is increasingly recognised although still apparently uncommon.

  • Because cortisol levels are used during AVS to correct for differences in dilution of adrenal with non-adrenal venous blood when assessing for lateralisation, unilateral cortisol overproduction with contralateral suppression could confound the interpretation of AVS results

  • Measuring plasma metanephrine during AVS to calculate lateralisation ratios may circumvent this problem.

Open access

Angela S Lee and Stephen M Twigg

Summary

Adrenal insufficiency is a rare cause of hypercalcaemia and should be considered when more common causes such as primary hyperparathyroidism and malignancy are excluded. Opioid therapy as a cause of adrenal insufficiency is a possibly under-recognised endocrinopathy with potentially life-threatening adverse effects. We report on a case of opioid-induced secondary adrenal insufficiency presenting as hypercalcaemia. The patient was a 25-year-old man who developed hypercalcaemia during the recovery stage after a period of critical illness. Systematic investigation of his hypercalcaemia found it to be due to secondary adrenal insufficiency, developing as a consequence of methadone opioid analgesia. Treatment with i.v. saline and subsequent glucocorticoid replacement led to resolution of the hypercalcaemia. The hypoadrenalism resolved when opioids were subsequently weaned and ceased. These two interacting endocrinopathies of opioid-induced adrenal insufficiency and consequent hypercalcaemia highlight the importance of maintaining awareness of the potentially serious adverse clinical outcomes which can occur as a result of opioids, particularly considering that symptoms of hypoadrenalism can overlap with those of concomitant illness. Treatment with hydration and glucocorticoid replacement is effective in promptly resolving the hypercalcaemia due to hypoadrenalism. Hypoadrenalism due to prescribed and recreational opioids may be more common than is currently recognised.

Learning points

  • Opioid therapy can cause clinically significant secondary adrenal insufficiency, and this may be more common than is currently recognised.

  • Adrenal insufficiency is reversible after discontinuation of the opioid therapy.

  • Hypercalcaemia can occur as a consequence of adrenal insufficiency, and may be the presenting feature.

  • Treatment of hypercalcaemia due to adrenal insufficiency involves i.v. saline and glucocorticoid replacement.

Open access

Beverly T Rodrigues, Zulfiquer Otty, Kunwarjit Sangla and Vasant V Shenoy

Summary

Autoimmune hypophysitis (AH) has been previously described in a typical demographic population, primarily women in the reproductive age group and perinatal period. The era of immune modulation using anti-cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 biological therapy (ipilimumab) against advanced cancers like metastatic melanomas has now resulted in a new form of hypophysitis being increasingly recognised under a spectrum of immune-related adverse events. Drug-related AH often presents with subtle symptoms and a pituitary mass, with the potential for fatality necessitating wide awareness and a high index of clinical suspicion given that it is usually treatable. We describe below two cases of AH within the last three months at our centre, which were treated with different regimens and produced good endocrine outcomes.

Learning points

  • AH is a new and defined clinical entity occurring as a side effect of ipilimumab, which enhances immune-mediated destruction of metastatic melanoma.

  • It can present insidiously and have life-threatening complications related to hypocortisolism, hence a high index of clinical suspicion must be exerted by treating physicians, and seems to result in resolution of pituitary masses and variable improvements of pituitary function.

  • Clinical improvement, radiological resolution of pituitary masses and variable normalisation of pituitary function are possible with early treatment with high-dose oral or i.v. steroids and hormone replacement therapy, although duration and dosing protocols are unclear at this stage.

  • Ipilimumab should continue to be prescribed as treatment for metastatic melanoma; however, close clinical observation of patient's progress must be maintained while they are on this drug.

  • Predictive factors for onset of AH remain unclear and it is imperative that AH is distinguished from pituitary metastases.

  • Further studies are required to determine the safety of continuing therapy with ipilimumab in patients who have developed AH while on treatment.

Open access

Durgesh Gowda, Vasant Shenoy, Usman Malabu, Donald Cameron and Kunwarjit Sangla

Summary

Our patient had drainage of a large amoebic liver abscess. This got complicated by a severe degree of hypotension, which required aggressive fluid resuscitation and hydrocortisone support. Computerised tomography (CT) of the abdomen revealed bilateral adrenal gland haemorrhage (BAH) resulting in primary adrenal gland failure, which was the cause for hypotension. Patient was on long-term warfarin for provoked deep vein thrombosis of lower limb, which was discontinued before the procedure. Thrombophilia profile indicated the presence of lupus anticoagulant factor with prolonged activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT). Patient was discharged on lifelong warfarin. This case emphasises the need for strong clinical suspicion for diagnosing BAH, rare but life-threatening condition, and its association with amoebic liver abscess and anti-phospholipid antibody syndrome (APLS).

Learning points

  • Recognition of BAH as a rare complication of sepsis.

  • APLS can rarely cause BAH.