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S M Constantinescu, G Wilms, R M Furnica, T Duprez, and D Maiter

Summary

Complicated Rathke’s cleft cyst (RCC) is a rare occurrence of symptomatic bleeding or growth of a previously asymptomatic (and often undiagnosed) intrasellar cyst derived from remnants of Rathke’s pouch, situated on the midline between the adeno- and neurohypophysis. Symptoms may be identical to those of pituitary apoplexy: acute onset of headache, hypopituitarism, and neurological disturbances. Both syndromes may also exhibit a similar appearance of a large haemorrhagic sellar mass at initial radiological evaluation. We report on two patients who presented with headache and complete hypopituitarism. Based on the initial MRI, they were first diagnosed with pituitary apoplexy but managed conservatively with hormone therapy alone because of the absence of severe visual or neurological threat. Upon follow-up at 4 months, clinical evolution was good in both patients but their pituitary mass had not reduced in size and, after careful radiologic reviewing, was more indicative of a large midline complicated RCC. In conclusion, the diagnosis of complicated RCC is challenging because it can mimic pituitary apoplexy clinically, biologically, and radiologically. Clinicians should distinguish between the two entities using specific radiological signs or evolution of the mass at MRI if the patient does not undergo surgery. To our knowledge, we report conservative management of this rare condition for the first time, though it seems appropriate in the absence of neurological compromise or visual compression. Long-term follow-up is however mandatory.

Learning points

  • Complicated Rathke’s cleft cyst can mimic pituitary apoplexy, presenting with sudden onset of headache, hypopituitarism, and visual and neurological compromise in the most severe cases.

  • At diagnosis, pituitary MRI may not be able to differentiate between the two entities, showing a large haemorrhagic mass inside the sella, with little or no normal pituitary tissue visible. Patients are often diagnosed with apoplexy at this stage and may undergo pituitary surgery.

  • When surgery has not been performed initially in these patients, repeat imaging at 3–6 months is unchanged and does not show the expected involution usually seen after adenoma apoplexy.

  • Conservative management with hormonal replacement seems a valid option in the absence of visual or neurological deficits that would require trans-sphenoidal surgery.