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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

Aoife Garrahy, Matilde Bettina Mijares Zamuner and Maria M Byrne

Summary

Coexistence of autoimmune diabetes and maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY) is rare. We report the first case of coexisting latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood (LADA) and glucokinase (GCK) MODY. A 32-year-old woman was treated with insulin for gestational diabetes at age 32 years; post-partum, her fasting blood glucose was 6.0 mmol/L and 2-h glucose was 11.8 mmol/L following an oral glucose tolerance test, and she was maintained on diet alone. Five years later, a diagnosis of LADA was made when she presented with fasting blood glucose of 20.3 mmol/L and HbA1C 125 mmol/mol (13.6%). GCK-MODY was identified 14 years later when genetic testing was prompted by identification of a mutation in her cousin. Despite multiple daily insulin injections her glycaemic control remained above target and her clinical course has been complicated by multiple episodes of hypoglycaemia with unawareness. Although rare, coexistence of latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood and monogenic diabetes should be considered if there is a strong clinical suspicion, for example, family history. Hypoglycaemic unawareness developed secondary to frequent episodes of hypoglycaemia using standard glycaemic targets for LADA. This case highlights the importance of setting fasting glucose targets within the expected range for GCK-MODY in subjects with coexisting LADA.

Learning points:

  • We report the first case of coexisting latent autoimmune diabetes of adulthood (LADA) and GCK-MODY.

  • It has been suggested that mutations in GCK may lead to altered counter-regulation and recognition of hypoglycaemia at higher blood glucose levels than patients without such mutation. However, in our case, hypoglycaemic unawareness developed secondary to frequent episodes of hypoglycaemia using standard glycaemic targets for LADA.

  • This case highlights the importance of setting fasting glucose targets within the expected range for GCK-MODY in subjects with coexisting LADA to avoid hypoglycaemia.

Open access

Miriam Hinaa Ahmad and Ismat Shafiq

Summary

We report a case of a 21-year-old African American female with history of pre-diabetes, and a diagnosis of a rare leukemia, blastic-plasmacytoid dendritic neoplasm (BPDCN), who developed diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) after the third dose of PEG-asparaginase infusion. She was successfully treated with insulin. Asparaginase is a vital part of treatment protocols for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in combination with other chemotherapeutic drugs. Asparaginase therapy has been reported to cause hyperglycemia especially when used in conjunction with glucocorticoids for the treatment of ALL in the pediatric population. Multiple mechanisms for hyperglycemia have been hypothesized which include decreased insulin secretion, impaired insulin receptor function and excess glucagon formation. Hyperglycemia is usually self-limiting but can deteriorate to diabetic ketoacidosis. DKA is a rare adverse effect with asparaginase therapy with an incidence rate of about 0.8%.

Learning points:

  • DKA is a rare finding following asparaginase therapy.

  • Hyperglycemia is most commonly seen with asparaginase treatment when used along with glucocorticoid.

  • Frequent blood glucose monitoring and prompt initiation of insulin treatment with hyperglycemia can prevent severe complications.

  • Patients and physician education on this complication can reduce morbidity due to DKA.

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

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.