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Open access

Diana Oliveira, Mara Ventura, Miguel Melo, Sandra Paiva and Francisco Carrilho

Summary

Addison’s disease (AD) is the most common endocrine manifestation of antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), but it remains a very rare complication of the syndrome. It is caused by adrenal venous thrombosis and consequent hemorrhagic infarction or by spontaneous (without thrombosis) adrenal hemorrhage, usually occurring after surgery or anticoagulant therapy. We present a clinical case of a 36-year-old female patient with a previous diagnosis of APS. She presented with multiple thrombotic events, including spontaneous abortions. During evaluation by the third episode of abortion, a CT imaging revealed an adrenal hematoma, but the patient was discharged without further investigation. A few weeks later, she presented in the emergency department with manifestations suggestive of adrenal insufficiency. Based on that assumption, she started therapy with glucocorticoids, with significant clinical improvement. After stabilization, additional investigation confirmed AD and excluded other etiologies; she also started mineralocorticoid replacement. This case illustrates a rare complication of APS that, if misdiagnosed, may be life threatening. A high index of suspicion is necessary for its diagnosis, and prompt treatment is crucial to reduce the morbidity and mortality potentially associated.

Learning points:

  • AD is a rare but life-threatening complication of APS.

  • It is important to look for AD in patients with APS and a suggestive clinical scenario.

  • APS must be excluded in patients with primary adrenal insufficiency and adrenal imaging revealing thrombosis/hemorrhage.

  • Glucocorticoid therapy should be promptly initiated when AD is suspected.

  • Mineralocorticoid replacement must be started when there is confirmed aldosterone deficiency.

  • Hypertension is a common feature of APS; in patients with APS and AD, replacement therapy with glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids may jeopardize hypertension management.

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

Diana Oliveira, Adriana Lages, Sandra Paiva and Francisco Carrilho

Summary

Addison’s disease, or primary adrenocortical insufficiency, is a long-term, potentially severe, rare endocrine disorder. In pregnancy, it is even rarer. We report the case of a 30-year-old pregnant patient with Addison’s disease, referred to Obstetrics-Endocrinology specialty consult at 14 weeks gestation. She had been to the emergency department of her local hospital various times during the first trimester presenting with a clinical scenario suggestive of glucocorticoid under-replacement (nausea, persistent vomiting and hypotension), but this was interpreted as normal pregnancy symptoms. Hydrocortisone dose was adjusted, and the patient maintained regular follow-up. No complications were reported for the remainder of gestation and delivery. Pregnant patients with Addison’s disease should be monitored during gestation and in the peripartum period by multidisciplinary teams. Adjustments in glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement therapy are often necessary, and monitoring should be based mainly on clinical findings, which becomes increasingly difficult during pregnancy. Patient education and specialized monitoring are key to avoiding complications from under- or over-replacement therapy in this period.

Learning points:

  • An increase in glucocorticoid replacement dose is expected to be necessary during pregnancy in a woman with Addison’s disease.

  • Patient education regarding steroid cover and symptoms of acute adrenal crisis are fundamental.

  • Monitoring in this period is challenging and remains mainly clinical.

  • The increase in hydrocortisone dose often obviates the need to increase fludrocortisone dose.

Open access

Snezana Burmazovic, Christoph Henzen, Lukas Brander and Luca Cioccari

Summary

The combination of hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state and central diabetes insipidus is unusual and poses unique diagnostic and therapeutic challenges for clinicians. In a patient with diabetes mellitus presenting with polyuria and polydipsia, poor glycaemic control is usually the first aetiology that is considered, and achieving glycaemic control remains the first course of action. However, severe hypernatraemia, hyperglycaemia and discordance between urine-specific gravity and urine osmolality suggest concurrent symptomatic diabetes insipidus. We report a rare case of concurrent manifestation of hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state and central diabetes insipidus in a patient with a history of craniopharyngioma.

Learning points:

  • In patients with diabetes mellitus presenting with polyuria and polydipsia, poor glycaemic control is usually the first aetiology to be considered.

  • However, a history of craniopharyngioma, severe hypernatraemia, hyperglycaemia and discordance between urine-specific gravity and osmolality provide evidence of concurrent diabetes insipidus.

  • Therefore, if a patient with diabetes mellitus presents with severe hypernatraemia, hyperglycaemia, a low or low normal urinary-specific gravity and worsening polyuria despite correction of hyperglycaemia, concurrent diabetes insipidus should be sought.

Open access

Lukas Burget, Laura Audí Parera, Monica Fernandez-Cancio, Rolf Gräni, Christoph Henzen and Christa E Flück

Summary

Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (STAR) is a key protein for the intracellular transport of cholesterol to the mitochondrium in endocrine organs (e.g. adrenal gland, ovaries, testes) and essential for the synthesis of all steroid hormones. Several mutations have been described and the clinical phenotype varies strongly and may be grouped into classic lipoid congenital adrenal hyperplasia (LCAH), in which all steroidogenesis is disrupted, and non-classic LCAH, which resembles familial glucocorticoid deficiency (FGD), which affects predominantly adrenal functions. Classic LCAH is characterized by early and potentially life-threatening manifestation of primary adrenal insufficiency (PAI) with electrolyte disturbances and 46,XY disorder of sex development (DSD) in males as well as lack of pubertal development in both sexes. Non-classic LCAH manifests usually later in life with PAI. Nevertheless, life-long follow-up of gonadal function is warranted. We describe a 26-year-old female patient who was diagnosed with PAI early in life without detailed diagnostic work-up. At the age of 14 months, she presented with hyperpigmentation, elevated ACTH and low cortisol levels. As her older brother was diagnosed with PAI two years earlier, she was put on hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone replacement therapy before an Addisonian crisis occurred. Upon review of her case in adulthood, consanguinity was noted in the family. Genetic analysis for PAI revealed a homozygous mutation in the STAR gene (c.562C>T, p.Arg188Cys) in both siblings. This mutation has been previously described in non-classic LCAH. This case illustrates that early onset, familial PAI is likely due to autosomal recessive genetic mutations in known genes causing PAI.

Learning points:

  • In childhood-onset PAI, a genetic cause is most likely, especially in families with consanguinity.

  • Adult patients with an etiologically unsolved PAI should be reviewed repeatedly and genetic work-up should be considered.

  • Knowing the exact genetic diagnosis in PAI is essential for genetic counselling and may allow disease-specific treatment.

  • Young men and women with NCLAH due to homozygous STAR Arg188Cys mutation should be investigated for their gonadal function as hypogonadism and infertility might occur during puberty or in early adulthood.

Open access

Jasmeet Kaur, Alan M Rice, Elizabeth O’Connor, Anil Piya, Bradley Buckler and Himangshu S Bose

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is caused by mutations in cytochrome P450 side chain cleavage enzyme (CYP11A1 and old name, SCC). Errors in cholesterol side chain cleavage by the mitochondrial resident CYP11A1 results in an inadequate amount of pregnenolone production. This study was performed to evaluate the cause of salt-losing crisis and possible adrenal failure in a pediatric patient whose mother had a history of two previous stillbirths and loss of another baby within a week of birth. CAH can appear in any population in any region of the world. The study was conducted at Memorial University Medical Center and Mercer University School of Medicine. The patient was admitted to Pediatric Endocrinology Clinic due to salt-losing crisis and possible adrenal failure. The patient had CAH, an autosomal recessive disease, due to a novel mutation in exon 5 of the CYP11A1 gene, which generated a truncated protein of 286 amino acids compared with wild-type protein that has 521 amino acids (W286X). Although unrelated, both parents are carriers. Mitochondrial protein import analysis of the mutant CYP11A1 in steroidogenic MA-10 cells showed that the protein is imported in a similar fashion as observed for the wild-type protein and was cleaved to a shorter fragment. However, mutant’s activity was 10% of that obtained for the wild-type protein in non-steroidogenic COS-1 cells. In a patient of Mexican descent, a homozygous CYP11A1 mutation caused CAH, suggesting that this disease is not geographically restricted even in a homogeneous population.

Learning points:

  • Novel mutation in CYP11A1 causes CAH;

  • This is a pure population from Central Mexico;

  • Novel mutation created early truncated protein.

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

Stephanie Teasdale, Fahid Hashem, Sarah Olson, Benjamin Ong and Warrick J Inder

Summary

A case of recurrent pituitary apoplexy is described in a 72-year-old man who initially presented with haemorrhage in a non-functioning pituitary adenoma. Five years later, he re-presented with a severe pituitary haemorrhage in an enlarging sellar mass invading both cavernous sinuses causing epistaxis and bilateral ocular paresis. Subsequent histology was consistent with a sellar malignant spindle and round cell neoplasm. Multiple pituitary tumours have previously been reported to coexist in the same individual, but to our knowledge this is the only case where two pathologically distinct pituitary neoplasms have sequentially arisen in a single patient. This case is also notable with respect to the progressive ocular paresis, including bilateral abducens nerve palsies, and the presentation with epistaxis.

Learning points

  • Ocular paresis in pituitary apoplexy can result from tumour infiltration of nerves, or by indirect compression via increased intrasellar pressure.

  • Epistaxis is a very rare presentation of a pituitary lesion.

  • Epistaxis more commonly occurs following trans-sphenoidal surgery, and can be delayed.

Open access

M Baxter, S Gorick and F M Swords

Summary

Addison's disease is a condition characterised by immune-mediated destruction of the adrenal glands leading to a requirement of lifelong replacement therapy with mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid. We present a case of a 53-year-old man who presented at the age of 37 years with nausea, fatigue and dizziness. He was found to have postural hypotension and buccal pigmentation. His presenting cortisol level was 43 nmol/l with no response to Synacthen testing. He made an excellent response to conventional replacement therapy with hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone and then remained well for 16 years. On registering with a new endocrinologist, his hydrocortisone dose was revised downwards and pre- and post-dose serum cortisol levels were assessed. His pre-dose cortisol was surprisingly elevated, and so his dose was further reduced. Subsequent Synacthen testing was normal and has remained so for further 12 months. He is now asymptomatic without glucocorticoid therapy, although he continues on fludrocortisone 50 μg daily. His adrenal antibodies are positive, although his ACTH and renin levels remain elevated after treatment. Addison's disease is generally deemed to lead to irreversible cell-mediated immune destruction of the adrenal glands. For this reason, patients receive detailed counselling and education on the need for lifelong replacement therapy. To our knowledge, this is the third reported case of spontaneous recovery of the adrenal axis in Addison's disease. Recovery may therefore be more common than previously appreciated, which may have major implications for the treatment and monitoring of this condition, and for the education given to patients at diagnosis.

Learning points

  • Partial recovery from Addison's disease is possible although uncommon.

  • Patients with long-term endocrine conditions on replacement therapy still benefit from regular clinical and biochemical assessment, to revisit optimal management.

  • As further reports of adrenal axis recovery emerge, this may influence the counselling given to patients with Addison's disease in the future.

Open access

Takuma Hara, Hiroyoshi Akutsu, Tetsuya Yamamoto, Eiichi Ishikawa, Masahide Matsuda and Akira Matsumura

Summary

Gastrointestinal perforation is a complication associated with steroid therapy or hypercortisolism, but it is rarely observed in patients with Cushing's disease in clinical practice, and only one case has been reported as a presenting symptom. Herein, we report a rare case of Cushing's disease in which a patient presented with gastrointestinal perforation as a symptom. A 79-year-old man complained of discomfort in the lower abdomen for 6 months. Based on the endocrinological and gastroenterological examinations, he was diagnosed with Cushing's disease with a perforation of the descending colon. After consultation with a gastroenterological surgeon, it was decided that colonic perforation could be conservatively observed without any oral intake and treated with parenteral administration of antibiotics because of the mild systemic inflammation and lack of abdominal guarding. Despite the marked elevated levels of serum cortisol, oral medication was not an option because of colonic perforation. Therefore, the patient was submitted to endonasal adenomectomy to normalize the levels of serum cortisol. Subsequently, a colostomy was successfully performed. Despite its rarity, physicians should be aware that gastrointestinal perforation may be associated with hypercortisolism, especially in elderly patients, and immediate diagnosis and treatment of this life-threatening condition are essential. If a perforation can be conservatively observed, endonasal adenomectomy prior to laparotomy is an alternative treatment option for hypercortisolism.

Learning points

  • Thus far, only one case of gastrointestinal perforation as a presenting clinical symptom of Cushing's disease has been reported.

  • Physicians should be aware that gastrointestinal perforation might be associated with hypercortisolism in elderly patients because elevated levels of serum cortisol may mask the clinical signs of perforation. Because of this masking effect, the diagnosis of the perforation also tends to be delayed.

  • Although parenteral administration of etomidate is a standard treatment option for decreasing the elevated levels of serum cortisol, endonasal adenomectomy prior to laparotomy is an alternative treatment option if etomidate therapy is unavailable.