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Open access

Seong Keat Cheah, David Halsall, Peter Barker, John Grant, Abraham Mathews, Shyam Seshadri and Singhan Krishnan

Summary

A frail 79-year-old lady with dementia presented with a 2-year history of frequent falls. Recurrent hypoglycaemic episodes were diagnosed and treated with continuous glucose infusion in multiple hospital admissions. Hypoadrenalism and hypothyroidism were ruled out. Whilst hypoglycaemic (blood glucose 1.6 mmol/L), both plasma C-peptide and proinsulin concentrations, were inappropriately elevated at 4210 pmol/L (174–960) and >200 pmol/L (0–7) respectively with plasma insulin suppressed at 12 pmol/L (0–180). Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma are typically pancreatic in origin, radiological investigations of the pancreas in this patient did not identify abnormalities. Unexpectedly contrast CT identified a heterogeneously enhancing mass (6.6 cm) at the lower pole of the left kidney consistent with renal cell carcinoma. Non-islet cell tumour-induced hypoglycaemia has been associated with renal malignancy; however, a serum IGF2:IGF1 ratio measured at <10 effectively excludes this diagnosis. Concomitantly on the CT, extensive peripherally enhancing heterogeneous mass lesions in the liver were identified, the largest measuring 12 cm. A palliative approach was taken due to multiple comorbidities. On post-mortem, the kidney lesion was confirmed as clear cell renal carcinoma, whilst the liver lesions were identified as proinsulin-secreting neuroendocrine tumours. In conclusion, the diagnosis of proinsulinoma can be missed if plasma proinsulin concentration is not measured at the time of hypoglycaemia. In this case, the plasma insulin:C-peptide ratio was too high to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin and was due to proinsulin cross-reactivity in the C-peptide assay. In addition, the concomitant malignancy proved to be a challenging red herring.

Learning points:

  • Even in non-diabetics, hypoglycaemia needs to be excluded in a setting of frequent falls. Insulin- or proinsulin-secreting tumours are potentially curable causes.

  • Whilst investigating spontaneous hypoglycaemia, if plasma insulin concentration is appropriate for the hypoglycaemia, it is prudent to check proinsulin concentrations during the hypoglycaemic episode.

  • Proinsulin cross-reacts variably with C-peptide and insulin assays; the effect is method dependent. In this case, the discrepancy between the insulin and C-peptide concentrations was too great to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin, raising the suspicion of assay interference. The C-peptide assay in question (Diasorin liaison) has been shown to be 100% cross reactive with proinsulin based on spiking studies with a proinsulin reference preparation.

  • Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma and 99% of insulinomas are of pancreatic origin, conventional imaging studies (CT, MRI or ultrasound) fail to detect neuroendocrine tumours <1 cm in 50% of cases.

  • The concomitant renal mass identified radiologically proved to be a red herring.

  • In view of the rarity of proinsulinoma, no conclusive association with renal cell carcinoma can be established.

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

Ploutarchos Tzoulis, Richard W Corbett, Swarupini Ponnampalam, Elly Baker, Daniel Heaton, Triada Doulgeraki and Justin Stebbing

Summary

Five days following the 3rd cycle of nivolumab, a monoclonal antibody, which acts as immune checkpoint inhibitor against the programmed cell death protein-1, for metastatic lung adenocarcinoma, a 56-year-old woman presented at the hospital critically ill. On admission, she had severe diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), as evidenced by venous glucose of 47 mmol/L, blood ketones of 7.5 mmol/L, pH of 6.95 and bicarbonate of 6.6 mmol/L. She has had no personal or family history of diabetes mellitus (DM), while random venous glucose, measured 1 week prior to hospitalisation, was 6.1 mmol/L. On admission, her HbA1c was 8.2% and anti-GAD antibodies were 12 kIU/L (0–5 kU/L), while islet cell antibodies and serum C-peptide were undetectable. Nivolumab was recommenced without the development of other immune-mediated phenomena until 6 months later, when she developed hypothyroidism with TSH 18 U/L and low free T4. She remains insulin dependent and has required levothyroxine replacement, while she has maintained good radiological and clinical response to immunotherapy. This case is notable for the rapidity of onset and profound nature of DKA at presentation, which occurred two months following commencement of immunotherapy. Despite the association of nivolumab with immune-mediated endocrinopathies, only a very small number of patients developing type 1 DM has been reported to date. Patients should be closely monitored for hyperglycaemia and thyroid dysfunction prior to and periodically during immunotherapy.

Learning points:

  • Nivolumab can induce fulminant type 1 diabetes, resulting in DKA.

  • Nivolumab is frequently associated with thyroid dysfunction, mostly hypothyroidism.

  • Nivolumab-treated patients should be monitored regularly for hyperglycaemia and thyroid dysfunction.

  • Clinicians should be aware and warn patients of potential signs and symptoms of severe hyperglycaemia.

Open access

Carine Ghassan Richa, Khadija Jamal Saad, Georges Habib Halabi, Elie Mekhael Gharios, Fadi Louis Nasr and Marie Tanios Merheb

Summary

The objective of this study is to report three cases of paraneoplastic or ectopic Cushing syndrome, which is a rare phenomenon of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent Cushing syndrome. Three cases are reported in respect of clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment in addition to relevant literature review. The results showed that ectopic ACTH secretion can be associated with different types of neoplasm most common of which are bronchial carcinoid tumors, which are slow-growing, well-differentiated neoplasms with a favorable prognosis and small-cell lung cancer, which are poorly differentiated tumors with a poor outcome. The latter is present in two out of three cases and in the remaining one, primary tumor could not be localized, representing a small fraction of patients with paraneoplastic Cushing. Diagnosis is established in the setting of high clinical suspicion by documenting an elevated cortisol level, ACTH and doing dexamethasone suppression test. Treatment options include management of the primary tumor by surgery and chemotherapy and treating Cushing syndrome. Prognosis is poor in SCLC. We concluded that in front of a high clinical suspicion, ectopic Cushing syndrome diagnosis should be considered, and identification of the primary tumor is essential.

Learning points:

  • Learning how to suspect ectopic Cushing syndrome and confirm it among all the causes of excess cortisol.

  • Distinguish between occult and severe ectopic Cushing syndrome and etiology.

  • Providing the adequate treatment of the primary tumor as well as for the cortisol excess.

  • Prognosis depends on the differentiation and type of the primary malignancy.

Open access

Tessa Glyn, Beverley Harris and Kate Allen

Summary

We present the case of a 57-year-old lady who had a delayed diagnosis of central hypothyroidism on a background of Grave’s thyrotoxicosis and a partial thyroidectomy. During the twenty years following her partial thyroidectomy, the patient developed a constellation of symptoms and new diagnoses, which were investigated by numerous specialists from various fields, namely rheumatology, renal and respiratory. She developed significantly impaired renal function and raised creatine kinase (CK). She was also referred to a tertiary neurology service for investigation of myositis, which resulted in inconclusive muscle biopsies. Recurrently normal TSH results reassured clinicians that this did not relate to previous thyroid dysfunction. In 2015, she developed increased shortness of breath and was found to have a significant pericardial effusion. The clinical biochemist reviewed this lady’s blood results and elected to add on a free T4 (fT4) and free T3 (fT3), which were found to be <0.4 pmol/L (normal range (NR): 12–22 pmol/L) and 0.3 pmol/L (NR: 3.1–6.8 pmol/L), respectively. She was referred urgently to the endocrine services and commenced on Levothyroxine replacement for profound central hypothyroidism. Her other pituitary hormones and MRI were normal. In the following year, her eGFR and CK normalised, and her myositis symptoms, breathlessness and pericardial effusion resolved. One year following initiation of Levothyroxine, her fT4 and fT3 were in the normal range for the first time. This case highlights the pitfalls of relying purely on TSH for excluding hypothyroidism and the devastating effect the delay in diagnosis had upon this patient.

Learning points:

  • Isolated central hypothyroidism is very rare, but should be considered irrespective of previous thyroid disorders.

  • If clinicians have a strong suspicion that a patient may have hypothyroidism despite normal TSH, they should ensure they measure fT3 and fT4.

  • Laboratories that do not perform fT3 and fT4 routinely should review advice sent to requesting clinicians to include a statement explaining that a normal TSH excludes primary but not secondary hypothyroidism.

  • Thyroid function tests should be performed routinely in patients presenting with renal impairment or a raised CK.

Open access

Gueorgui Dubrocq, Andrea Estrada, Shannon Kelly and Natella Rakhmanina

Summary

An 11-year-old male with perinatally acquired human immune deficiency virus (HIV) infection on antiretroviral regimen, which included abacavir plus lamivudine (Epzicom), didanosine, ritonavir and atazanavir presented with bilateral axillary striae, increased appetite, fatigue, facial swelling and acute weight gain. Two months prior to presentation, the patient had received a diagnostic and therapeutic intra-articular triamcinolone injection in the knee for pain relief and subsequently became progressively swollen in the face, developed striae bilaterally at the axillae, experienced increased appetite, fatigue and an 8 pound weight gain. During the endocrine workup, suspicion for adrenal insufficiency prompted 24-h urine collection for free cortisol, which was found to be undetectable (below LLQ of 1.0 µg/L). This prompted further evaluation of the hypothalamic–pituitary axis (HPA) by standard dose adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test. A 250 µg cosyntropin stimulation test was performed and confirmed HPA axis suppression. Baseline cortisol level was <1 µg/dL and stimulated cortisol level at 30 min was 3.8 µg/dL. The patient was diagnosed with iatrogenic Cushing syndrome and suppression of HPA axis secondary to the drug interaction between ritonavir (RTV) and intra-articular triamcinolone injection. Following endocrine evaluation and workup, the patient was admitted for planned orthopaedic procedure including elective left hamstring lengthening, distal femoral osteotomy and patellar tendon advancement. Taking into consideration the diagnosis of iatrogenic Cushing syndrome, at the start of the surgical procedure, 100 mg IV stress dose of hydrocortisone followed by 50 mg hydrocortisone every 8 h for 24 h was administered. Stress dosing was discontinued 24 h after the procedure. Throughout the hospitalization and upon discharge, the patient continued his ART. From initial presentation, patient has remained clinically stable throughout surgery and postoperative period.

Learning points:

  • Drug–drug interaction between ritonavir and triamcinolone can cause Cushing syndrome.

  • Although triamcinolone has a half-life of 3 h, an intra-articular injection may be systematically absorbed for 3 weeks after injection, and adrenal suppression may last as long as 30 days.

  • Co-administration of ritonavir and corticosteroids may result in an increase of plasma levels of corticosteroids levels, as they are both eliminated by CYP3A metabolism, and this interaction has the potential to prolong the half-life of triamcinolone several fold.

  • No specific guidelines are available for the management of iatrogenic Cushing syndrome secondary to ritonavir and corticosteroids.

  • One treatment option includes replacing ritonavir with a non-protease inhibitor-based regimen.

  • Initiating hydrocortisone replacement therapy to prevent an adrenal crisis is also an alternate option.

Open access

Hodaka Yamada, Shunsuke Funazaki, Masafumi Kakei, Kazuo Hara and San-e Ishikawa

Summary

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a critical complication of type 1 diabetes associated with water and electrolyte disorders. Here, we report a case of DKA with extreme hyperkalemia (9.0 mEq/L) in a patient with type 1 diabetes on hemodialysis. He had a left frontal cerebral infarction resulting in inability to manage his continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion pump. Electrocardiography showed typical changes of hyperkalemia, including absent P waves, prolonged QRS interval and tented T waves. There was no evidence of total body water deficit. After starting insulin and rapid hemodialysis, the serum potassium level was normalized. Although DKA may present with hypokalemia, rapid hemodialysis may be necessary to resolve severe hyperkalemia in a patient with renal failure.

Learning points:

  • Patients with type 1 diabetes on hemodialysis may develop ketoacidosis because of discontinuation of insulin treatment.

  • Patients on hemodialysis who develop ketoacidosis may have hyperkalemia because of anuria.

  • Absolute insulin deficit alters potassium distribution between the intracellular and extracellular space, and anuria abolishes urinary excretion of potassium.

  • Rapid hemodialysis along with intensive insulin therapy can improve hyperkalemia, while fluid infusions may worsen heart failure in patients with ketoacidosis who routinely require hemodialysis.

Open access

Maria Mercedes Pineyro, Daiana Arrestia, Mariana Elhordoy, Ramiro Lima, Saul Wajskopf, Raul Pisabarro and Maria Pilar Serra

Summary

Spontaneous reossification of the sellar floor after transsphenoidal surgery has been rarely reported. Strontium ranelate, a divalent strontium salt, has been shown to increase bone formation, increasing osteoblast activity. We describe an unusual case of a young patient with Cushing’s disease who was treated with strontium ranelate for low bone mass who experienced spontaneous sellar reossification after transsphenoidal surgery. A 21-year-old male presented with Cushing’s features. His past medical history included delayed puberty diagnosed at 16 years, treated with testosterone for 3 years without further work-up. He was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease initially treated with transsphenoidal surgery, which was not curative. The patient did not come to follow-up visits for more than 1 year. He was prescribed strontium ranelate 2 g orally once daily for low bone mass by an outside endocrinologist, which he received for more than 1 year. Two years after first surgery he was reevaluated and persisted with active Cushing’s disease. Magnetic resonance image revealed a left 4 mm hypointense mass, with sphenoid sinus occupation by a hyperintense material. At repeated transsphenoidal surgery, sellar bone had a very hard consistency; surgery was complicated and the patient died. Sellar reossification negatively impacted surgery outcomes in this patient. While this entity is possible after transsphenoidal surgery, it remains unclear whether strontium ranelate could have affected sellar ossification.

Learning points:

  • Delayed puberty can be a manifestation of Cushing’s syndrome. A complete history, physical examination and appropriate work-up should be performed before initiating any treatment.

  • Sellar reossification should always be taken into account when considering repeated transsphenoidal surgery. Detailed preoperative evaluation of bony structures by computed tomography ought to be performed in all cases of reoperation.

  • We speculate if strontium ranelate may have affected bone mineralization at the sellar floor. We strongly recommend that indications for prescribing this drug should be carefully followed.

Open access

B Cangiano, C Cacciatore, L Persani and M Bonomi

We describe a case of severe erythrocytosis caused by testosterone replacement therapy in a 66-year-old man affected with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (HH) determining osteoporosis, resolved by switching to restoration therapy with clomiphene citrate. The patient complained fatigue, loss of libido and defective erections and a spontaneous vertebral fracture despite bisphosphonate therapy and vitamin D supplementation. The examinations proved isolated HH and he was therefore treated with testosterone gel with regression of specific manifestations but elevated hemoglobin and hematocrit values. Therefore, it was decided to switch to a restoration therapy with clomiphene citrate 25 mg/die, which resulted in the resolution of symptoms without evident side effects. In a couple of months, the patient showed normalization of testosterone levels and increment of testicular volume. Since secondary hypogonadism is the consequence of an insufficient stimulation of the gonads by hypothalamic–pituitary axis, therapeutic approaches aimed to restore endogenous testosterone production should be considered in alternative to testosterone replacement, particularly if side effects intervene. Among these strategies, clomiphene citrate seems to have a high efficacy and safety profile also in the elderly with isolated HH and no evident pituitary lesion.

Learning points:

  • Hypogonadism should always be assessed in patients with severe loss in BMD and undergo appropriate medical treatment.

  • In hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, more approaches are available other than testosterone replacement therapy alone.

  • In patients with severe late-onset central hypogonadism presenting with erythrocytosis even at low doses of replacement therapy, restoration therapy with clomiphene could prove to be an effective solution, particularly in patients with a reversible disruption of GNRH/gonadotropin functions.

  • Clomiphene citrate increases gonadotropin levels and testicular volume and should therefore be considered in hypogonadal men who wish to remain fertile.

Open access

Regina Streuli, Ina Krull, Michael Brändle, Walter Kolb, Günter Stalla, Marily Theodoropoulou, Annette Enzler-Tschudy and Stefan Bilz

Summary

Ectopic ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumors are a very rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome and only a few cases have been reported in the literature. Differentiating between Cushing’s disease and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome may be particularly difficult if predominant ectopic CRH secretion leads to pituitary corticotroph hyperplasia that may mimic Cushing’s disease during dynamic testing with both dexamethasone and CRH as well as bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BIPSS). We present the case of a 24-year-old man diagnosed with ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome caused by an ACTH/CRH co-secreting midgut NET. Both high-dose dexamethasone testing and BIPSS suggested Cushing’s disease. However, the clinical presentation with a rather rapid onset of cushingoid features, hyperpigmentation and hypokalemia led to the consideration of ectopic ACTH/CRH-secretion and prompted a further workup. Computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen revealed a cecal mass which was identified as a predominantly CRH-secreting neuroendocrine tumor. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first reported case of an ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumor of the cecum presenting with biochemical features suggestive of Cushing’s disease.

Learning points:

  • The discrimination between a Cushing’s disease and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome is challenging and has many caveats.

  • Ectopic ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumors are very rare.

  • Dynamic tests as well as BIPSS may be compatible with Cushing’s disease in ectopic CRH-secretion.

  • High levels of CRH may induce hyperplasia of the corticotroph cells in the pituitary. This could be the cause of a preserved pituitary response to dexamethasone and CRH.

  • Clinical features of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism with rapid development of Cushing’s syndrome, hyperpigmentation, high circulating levels of cortisol with associated hypokalemia, peripheral edema and proximal myopathy should be a warning flag of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome and lead to further investigations.