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Open access

Pedro Marques, Nicola Tufton, Satya Bhattacharya, Mark Caulfield and Scott A Akker

Summary

Mineralocorticoid hypertension is most often caused by autonomous overproduction of aldosterone, but excess of other mineralocorticoid precursors can lead to a similar presentation. 11-Deoxycorticosterone (DOC) excess, which can occur in 11-β hydroxylase or 17-α hydroxylase deficiencies, in DOC-producing adrenocortical tumours or in patients taking 11-β hydroxylase inhibitors, may cause mineralocorticoid hypertension. We report a 35-year-old woman who in the third trimester of pregnancy was found to have a large adrenal mass on routine obstetric ultrasound. On referral to our unit, persistent hypertension and long-standing hypokalaemia was noted, despite good compliance with multiple antihypertensives. Ten years earlier, she had hypertension noted in pregnancy which had persisted after delivery. A MRI scan confirmed the presence of a 12 cm adrenal mass and biochemistry revealed high levels of DOC and low/normal renin, aldosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone, with normal catecholamine levels. The patient was treated with antihypertensives until obstetric delivery, following which she underwent an adrenalectomy. Histology confirmed a large adrenal cortical neoplasm of uncertain malignant potential. Postoperatively, blood pressure and serum potassium normalised, and the antihypertensive medication was stopped. Over 10 years of follow-up, she remains asymptomatic with normal DOC measurements. This case should alert clinicians to the possibility of a diagnosis of a DOC-producing adrenal tumours in patients with adrenal nodules and apparent mineralocorticoid hypertension in the presence of low or normal levels of aldosterone. The associated diagnostic and management challenges are discussed.

Learning points:

  • Hypermineralocorticoidism is characterised by hypertension, volume expansion and hypokalaemic alkalosis and is most commonly due to overproduction of aldosterone. However, excess of other mineralocorticoid products, such as DOC, lead to the same syndrome but with normal or low aldosterone levels.

  • The differential diagnosis of resistant hypertension with low renin and low/normal aldosterone includes congenital adrenal hyperplasia, syndrome of apparent mineralocorticoid excess, Cushing’s syndrome, Liddle’s syndrome and 11-deoxycorticosterone-producing tumours.

  • DOC is one intermediate product in the mineralocorticoid synthesis with weaker activity than aldosterone. However, marked DOC excess seen in 11-β hydroxylase or 17-α hydroxylase deficiencies in DOC-producing adrenocortical tumours or in patients taking 11-β hydroxylase inhibitors, may cause mineralocorticoid hypertension.

  • Excessive production of DOC in adrenocortical tumours has been attributed to reduced activity of the enzymes 11-β hydroxylase and 17-α hydroxylase and increased activity of 21-α hydroxylase.

  • The diagnosis of DOC-producing adrenal tumours is challenging because of its rarity and poor availability of DOC laboratory assays.

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.

Open access

S F Wan Muhammad Hatta, L Kandaswamy, C Gherman-Ciolac, J Mann and H N Buch

Summary

Myopathy is a well-known complication of hypercortisolism and commonly involves proximal lower-limb girdle. We report a rare case of Cushing’s syndrome in a 60-year-old female presenting with significant respiratory muscle weakness and respiratory failure. She had history of rheumatoid arthritis, primary biliary cirrhosis and primary hypothyroidism and presented with weight gain and increasing shortness of breath. Investigations confirmed a restrictive defect with impaired gas transfer but with no significant parenchymatous pulmonary disease. Respiratory muscle test confirmed weakness of respiratory muscles and diaphragm. Biochemical and radiological investigations confirmed hypercortisolaemia secondary to a left adrenal tumour. Following adrenalectomy her respiratory symptoms improved along with an objective improvement in the respiratory muscle strength, diaphragmatic movement and pulmonary function test.

Learning points:

  • Cushing’s syndrome can present in many ways, a high index of suspicion is required for its diagnosis, as often patients present with only few of the pathognomonic symptoms and signs of the syndrome.

  • Proximal lower-limb girdle myopathy is common in Cushing’s syndrome. Less often long-term exposure of excess glucocorticoid production can also affect other muscles including respiratory muscle and the diaphragm leading to progressive shortness of breath and even acute respiratory failure.

  • Treatment of Cushing’s myopathy involves treating the underlying cause that is hypercortisolism. Various medications have been suggested to hinder the development of GC-induced myopathy, but their effects are poorly analysed.

Open access

Natasha Shrikrishnapalasuriyar, Mirena Noyvirt, Philip Evans, Bethan Gibson, Elin Foden and Atul Kalhan

A 54-year-old woman was admitted to hospital with a presumed allergic reaction to a single dose of amoxicillin given for a suspected upper respiratory tract infection. She complained of chest tightness although there was no wheeze or stridor. On examination, she was pyrexial, tachycardic, hypertensive and had a diffuse mottled rash on her lower limbs. Her initial investigations showed raised inflammatory markers. She was treated in the intensive care for a presumed anaphylactic reaction with an underlying sepsis. Further investigations including CT head and CSF examination were unremarkable; however, a CT abdomen showed a 10 cm heterogeneous right adrenal mass. Based on review by the endocrine team, a diagnosis of pheochromocytoma crisis was made, which was subsequently confirmed on 24-h urinary metanephrine measurement. An emergency adrenalectomy was considered although she was deemed unfit for surgery. Despite intensive medical management, her conditioned deteriorated and she died secondary to multi-organ failure induced by pheochromocytoma crisis.

Learning points:

  • Pheochromocytoma have relatively higher prevalence in autopsy series (0.05–1%) suggestive of a diagnosis, which is often missed.

  • Pheochromocytoma crisis is an endocrine emergency characterized by hemodynamic instability induced by surge of catecholamines often precipitated by trauma and medications (β blockers, general anesthetic agents, ephedrine and steroids).

  • Pheochromocytoma crisis can mimic acute coronary syndrome, cardiogenic or septic shock.

  • Livedo reticularis can be a rare although significant cutaneous marker of underlying pheochromocytoma crisis.

Open access

Charlotte Boughton, David Taylor, Lea Ghataore, Norman Taylor and Benjamin C Whitelaw

Summary

We describe severe hypokalaemia and hypertension due to a mineralocorticoid effect in a patient with myelodysplastic syndrome taking posaconazole as antifungal prophylaxis. Two distinct mechanisms due to posaconazole are identified: inhibition of 11β hydroxylase leading to the accumulation of the mineralocorticoid hormone 11-deoxycorticosterone (DOC) and secondly, inhibition of 11β hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11βHSD2), as demonstrated by an elevated serum cortisol-to-cortisone ratio. The effects were ameliorated by spironolactone. We also suggest that posaconazole may cause cortisol insufficiency. Patients taking posaconazole should therefore be monitored for hypokalaemia, hypertension and symptoms of hypocortisolaemia, at the onset of treatment and on a monthly basis. Treatment with mineralocorticoid antagonists (spironolactone or eplerenone), supplementation of glucocorticoids (e.g. hydrocortisone) or dose reduction or cessation of posaconazole should all be considered as management strategies.

Learning points:

  • Combined hypertension and hypokalaemia are suggestive of mineralocorticoid excess; further investigation is appropriate.

  • If serum aldosterone is suppressed, then further investigation to assess for an alternative mineralocorticoid is appropriate, potentially using urine steroid profiling and/or serum steroid panelling.

  • Posaconazole can cause both hypokalaemia and hypertension, and we propose that this is due to two mechanisms – both 11β hydroxylase inhibition and 11β HSD2 inhibition.

  • Posaconazole treatment may lead to cortisol insufficiency, which may require treatment; however, in this clinical case, the effect was mild.

  • First-line treatment of this presentation would likely be use of a mineralocorticoid antagonist.

  • Patients taking posaconazole should be monitored for hypertension and hypokalaemia on initiation and monthly thereafter.

Open access

R D’Arcy, M McDonnell, K Spence and C H Courtney

Summary

A 42-year-old male presented with a one-week history of palpitations and sweating episodes. The only significant history was of longstanding idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. Initial ECG demonstrated a sinus tachycardia. Thyroid function testing, undertaken as part of the diagnostic workup, revealed an un-measureable thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and free thyroxine (T4). Upon questioning the patient reported classical thyrotoxic symptoms over the preceding weeks. Given the persistence of symptoms free tri-iodothyronine (T3) was measured and found to be markedly elevated at 48.9 pmol/L (normal range: 3.1–6.8 pmol/L). No goitre or nodular disease was palpable in the neck. Historically there had never been any amiodarone usage. Radionucleotide thyroid uptake imaging (123I) demonstrated significantly reduced tracer uptake in the thyroid. Upon further questioning the patient reported purchasing a weight loss product online from India which supposedly contained sibutramine. He provided one of the tablets and laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of T3 in the tablet. Full symptomatic resolution and normalised thyroid function ensued upon discontinuation of the supplement.

Learning points:

  • Free tri-iodothyronine (T3) measurement may be useful in the presence of symptoms suggestive of thyrotoxicosis with discordant thyroid function tests.

  • Thyroid uptake scanning can be a useful aid to differentiating exogenous hormone exposure from endogenous hyperthyroidism.

  • Ingestion of thyroid hormone may be inadvertent in cases of exogenous thyrotoxicosis.

  • Medicines and supplements sourced online for weight loss may contain thyroxine (T4) or T3 and should be considered as a cause of unexplained exogenous hyperthyroidism.

Open access

Rowena Speak, Jackie Cook, Barney Harrison and John Newell-Price

Mutations of the rearranged during transfection (RET) proto-oncogene, located on chromosome 10q11.2, cause multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A (MEN2A). Patients with mutations at the codon 609 usually exhibit a high penetrance of medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), but a sufficiently low penetrance of phaeochromocytoma that screening for this latter complication has been called to question. Patients with other RET mutations are at higher risk of younger age onset phaeochromocytoma if they also possess other RET polymorphisms (L769L, S836S, G691S and S904S), but there are no similar data for patients with 609 mutations. We investigated the unusual phenotypic presentation in a family with MEN2A due to a C609Y mutation in RET. Sanger sequencing of the entire RET-coding region and exon–intron boundaries was performed. Five family members were C609Y mutation positive: 3/5 initially presented with phaeochromocytoma, but only 1/5 had MTC. The index case aged 73 years had no evidence of MTC, but presented with phaeochromocytoma. Family members also possessed the G691S and S904S RET polymorphisms. We illustrate a high penetrance of phaeochromocytoma and low penetrance of MTC in patients with a RET C609Y mutation and polymorphisms G691S and S904S. These data highlight the need for life-long screening for the complications of MEN2A in these patients and support the role for the screening of RET polymorphisms for the purposes of risk stratification.

Learning points:

  • C609Y RET mutations may be associated with a life-long risk of phaeochromocytoma indicating the importance of life-long screening for this condition in patients with MEN2A.

  • C609Y RET mutations may be associated with a lower risk of MTC than often quoted, questioning the need for early prophylactic thyroid surgery discussion at the age of 5 years.

  • There may be a role for the routine screening of RET polymorphisms, and this is greatly facilitated by the increasing ease of access to next-generation sequencing.

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

Ravi Kumar Menon, Francesco Ferrau, Tom R Kurzawinski, Gill Rumsby, Alexander Freeman, Zahir Amin, Márta Korbonits and Teng-Teng L L Chung

Summary

Adrenal cortical carcinoma (ACC) has previously only been reported in eight patients with type 1 neurofibromatosis (NF1). There has not been any clear evidence of a causal association between NF1 gene mutations and adrenocortical malignancy development. We report the case of a 49-year-old female, with no family history of endocrinopathy, who was diagnosed with ACC on the background of NF1, due to a novel germline frame shift mutation (c.5452_5453delAT) in exon 37 of the NF1 gene. A left adrenal mass was detected by ultrasound and characterised by contrast computerised tomography (CT) scan. Biochemical tests showed mild hypercortisolism and androgen excess. A 24-h urinary steroid profile and 18flouro deoxy glucose PET suggested ACC. An open adrenalectomy was performed and histology confirmed ACC. This is the first reported case with DNA analysis, which demonstrated the loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at the NF1 locus in the adrenal cancer, supporting the hypothesis of an involvement of the NF1 gene in the pathogenesis of ACC. LOH analysis of the tumour suggests that the loss of neurofibromin in the adrenal cells may lead to tumour formation.

Learning points

  • ACC is rare but should be considered in a patient with NF1 and adrenal mass when plasma metanephrines are normal.

  • Urinary steroid metabolites and PET/CT are helpful in supporting evidence for ACC.

  • The LOH at the NF1 region of the adrenal tumour supports the role of loss of neurofibromin in the development of ACC.