Cushing’s Syndrome Subtype Affects Postoperative Time to Adrenal Recovery

Berr CM. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014;doi:10.1210/jc.2014-3632.

January 16, 2015

In patients undergoing curative surgical tumor resection for Cushing’s syndrome, the time to recovery of adrenal function is contingent upon the underlying etiology of the disease, according to recent findings.

In the retrospective study, researchers reviewed case records of 230 patients with Cushing’s syndrome. All patients were seen at a tertiary care center in Munich between 1983 and 2014, whose cases were documented in the German Cushing’s Registry. Patients were divided into three subgroups of Cushing’s syndrome: Cushing’s disease, adrenal Cushing’s syndrome and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome.

After applying various exclusion criteria, the researchers identified 91 patients of the three subgroups who were undergoing curative surgery at the hospital. The patients were followed for a median of 6 years. The researchers defined adrenal insufficiency as the need for hydrocortisone replacement therapy, and collected this information from patient records and laboratory results.

The duration of adrenal insufficiency was calculated as the interval between successful surgery and the completion of hydrocortisone replacement therapy. Cushing’s syndrome recurrence was defined as biochemical and clinical signs of hypercortisolism.

The researchers found a significant difference between Cushing’s syndrome subtypes in the likelihood of regaining adrenal function within 5 years of follow-up: The probability was 82% in ectopic Cushing’s syndrome, 58% in Cushing’s disease and 38% in adrenal Cushing’s syndrome (P=.001). Among the 52 participants who recovered adrenal function, the median type to recovery also differed between subtypes and was 0.6 years in ectopic Cushing’s syndrome, 1.4 years in Cushing’s disease and 2.5 years in adrenal Cushing’s syndrome (P=.002).

An association also was found between younger age and adrenal recovery in the Cushing’s disease participants (P=.012).

This association was independent of sex, BMI, symptom duration, basal adrenocorticotropic hormone and cortisol levels. No association was seen between adrenal recovery and length of hypercortisolism or postoperative glucocorticoid replacement dosage.

“It is the main finding of this series that the median duration of tertiary adrenal insufficiency was dependent on the etiology of [Cushing’s syndrome]: It was shortest in the ectopic [Cushing’s syndrome], intermediate in [Cushing’s disease] and longest in adrenal [Cushing’s syndrome] caused by unilateral cortisol producing adenoma,” the researchers wrote. “The significant difference to [Cushing’s disease] is an unexpected finding since by biochemical means cortisol excess is generally less severe in adrenal [Cushing’s syndrome]. If confirmed by others, our data have clinical impact for the follow-up of patients after curative surgery: Patients should be informed that adrenocortical function may remain impaired in benign conditions such as cortisol-producing adenoma.”

Disclosure: The study was funded in part by the Else Kröner-Fresenius Stiftung.

The original article is here: Healio

Myth: “You should be all better by now!

Myth: “You should be all better by now! You found out what was wrong, you got the surgery, it’s been quite some time, and you are STILL not better?! You SHOULD have gotten better by now!” Chronic illness follows the same pattern as normal illness. You get diagnosed, treated, and then go back to a state of recovery, eventually leading you back to a state of “normal health”.

Fact: Chronic illness is called chronic illness for a reason, because it is chronic! Wayne Dyer addresses this myth: We usually expect to follow a pattern that is characteristic of most illness. “The person has an illness and falls from the path of normal health. Then, comes a period of diagnosis and treatment followed by a period of convalescence (the general recovery of health and strength after illness). Finally, the person returns to good health again” (p. 251).

The person is supported, typically, by family, friends, neighbors, and their church community during the illness, treatment, and recovery, assuming that at some point the person will return to normal health and their assistance will no longer be needed (p. 251).

However, in the case of the chronically ill, a different cycle occurs. In the chronically ill, the person loses his normal health. He goes through a period of treatment and sometimes recovers. “But for a number of reasons, depending on the illness, the person does not return to a condition of normal health but continues in a fluctuating pattern of chronic ill health. The person may have periods when he feels better or worse, but at no time does he ever return to complete good health.” (p. 252).

According to Dyer (1990), “Unfortunately, family members, friends, and neighbors do not know how to respond to this unfamiliar pattern, and they usually shift their attention away from the chronically ill person as others with the more normal cycle of sickness occupy their attention” (p 252). At this point, the person with the chronic illness feels a lack of support, understanding, and help. This can lead to increased pain, depression, and anxiety.

It is very difficult for family members, such as spouses, to deal with the person with chronic illness. “Chronic illness can disrupt and pide a family, or it can provide the family with an opportunity to grow in understanding, patience, sacrifice, and love for one another” (Dyer, 1990, p. 256).

For the chronically ill person and his family, the friends, neighbors, and church can either be a source of support and help or elicit feelings of neglect, rejection, and misunderstanding. Most people help at the beginning of the illness, but then become confused when the person doesn’t get better, so they withdraw their attention (p. 256).

Here are some ideas for helping the chronically ill person and family:

• Discuss in some detail with the person how his illness is affecting him and his family and find out what his needs are

• Make short visits to not overtire or over stimulate the patient

• Send a card or make a short phone call to the sick person

• Look for ways to help with young children

• Send a small gift

• Avoid saying things to make the person feel pressured such as “I hope you can come back to church every Sunday now”

• Don’t ask, “What can I do to help?” People don’t like to have to ask for support. Express sensitivity and go ahead and do something (p. 258).

Reference: Dyer, W.G. (1990). Chronic Illness. In R. L. Britsch & T.D. Olson (Ed.), Counseling: A guide to helping others, volume 2, 250-259.

Please take the time to view this video on “Chronic Illness versus Normal Illness” and share with your loved ones:

Cushing’s Syndrome Etiology Affects Adrenal Function Recovery

The aim was to analyze the postsurgical duration of adrenal insufficiency of patients with Cushing’s disease (CD), adrenal CS and ectopic CS.


We performed a retrospective analysis based on the case records of 230 CS patients in our tertiary referral center treated from 1983 to 2014. The mean follow-up time was 8 years.

The probability of recovering adrenal function within a 5 years follow-up differed significantly between subtypes (p=0.001). It was 82 % in ectopic CS, 58 % in Cushing’s disease and 38 % in adrenal CS. In the total cohort with restored adrenal function (n=52) the median time to recovery differed between subtypes: 0.6 (IQR 0.03–1.1) years in ectopic CS, 1.4 (IQR 0.9–3.4) years in CD, and 2.5 (IQR 1.6–5.4) years in adrenal CS (p=0.002). In CD the Cox proportional-hazards model showed that the probability of recovery was associated with younger age (hazard ratio 0.896, 95% CI 0.822–0.976, p=0.012), independently of sex, BMI, duration of symptoms, and basal ACTH and cortisol levels. There was no correlation with length and extend of hypercortisolism or postoperative glucocorticoid replacement doses.


Time to recovery of adrenal function is dependent on the underlying etiology of CS.

Myth: “Each Person Requires the Same Dose of Steroid in Order to Survive…

Myth: “Each person requires the same dose of steroid in order to survive with Secondary or Primary Adrenal Insufficiency”


Fact: In simple terms, Adrenal Insufficiency occurs when the body does not have enough cortisol in it. You see, cortisol is life sustaining and we actually do need cortisol to survive. You have probably seen the commercials about “getting rid of extra belly fat” by lowering your cortisol. These advertisements make it hard for people to actually understand the importance of the function of cortisol.

After a Cushing’s patient has surgery, he/she goes from having very high levels of cortisol to no cortisol at all. For pituitary patients, the pituitary, in theory, should start working eventually again and cause the adrenal glands to produce enough cortisol. However, in many cases; the pituitary gland does not resume normal functioning and leaves a person adrenally insufficient. The first year after pit surgery is spent trying to get that hormone to regulate on its own normally again. For a patient who has had a Bilateral Adrenalectomy (BLA), where both adrenal glands are removed as a last resort to “cure” Cushing’s; his/her body will not produce cortisol at all for his/her life. This causes Primary Adrenal Insufficiency.

All Cushing’s patients spend time after surgery adjusting medications and weaning slowly from steroid (cortisol) to get the body to a maintenance dose, which is the dose that a “normal” body produces. This process can be a very long one. Once on maintenance, a patient’s job is not over. He/She has to learn what situations require even more cortisol. You see, cortisol is the stress hormone and also known as the Fight or Flight hormone. Its function is to help a person respond effectively to stress and cortisol helps the body compensate for both physical and emotional stress. So, when faced with a stressor, the body will produce 10X the baseline levels in order to compensate. When a person can not produce adequate amounts of cortisol to compensate, we call that Adrenal Insufficiency. If it gets to the point of an “Adrenal Crisis”, this means that the body can no longer deal and will go into shock unless introduced to extremely high levels of cortisol, usually administered through an emergency shot of steroid.

There are ways to help prevent a crisis, by taking more steroid than the maintenance dose during times of stress. This can be anything from going to a family function (good stress counts too) to fighting an infection or illness. Acute stressors such as getting into a car accident or sometimes even having a really bad fight require more cortisol as well.

It was once believed that everyone responded to every stressor in the exact same way. So, there are general guidelines about how much more cortisol to introduce to the body during certain stressors. For instance, during infection, a patient should take 2-3X the maintenance dose of steroid (cortisol). Also, even the maintenance dose was considered the same for everyone. Now a days, most doctors will say that 20 mg of Hydrocortisone (Steroid/Cortisol) is the appropriate maintenance dose for EVERYONE. Now, we know that neither is necessarily true. Although the required maintenance dose is about the same for everyone; some patients require less and some require more. I have friends who will go into an adrenal crisis if they take LESS than 30 mg of daily steroid. On the other hand, 30 mg may be way too much for some and those folks may even require LESS daily steroid, like 15 mg. Also, I want to stress (no pun intended) that different stressors affect different people differently. For some, for instance, an acute scare may not affect them. However, for others, receiving bad news or being in shock WILL put their bodies into crisis. That person must then figure out how much additional steroid is needed.

Each situation is different and each time may be different. Depending on the stressor, a person may need just a little more cortisol or a lot. Every person must, therefore, learn their own bodies when dealing with Adrenal Insufficiency. This is VERY important! I learned this the hard way. As a Clinical Psychologist; I assumed that my “coping skills” would be enough to prevent a stressor from putting me into crisis. That was FAR from the truth! I have learned that I can not necessarily prevent my body’s physiological response to stress. People often ask me, “BUT you are a psychologist! Shouldn’t you be able to deal with stress?!!!!” What they don’t realize is that my BODY is the one that has to do the job of compensating. Since my body can not produce cortisol at all, my job is to pay close attention to it so that I can take enough steroid to respond to any given situation. We all have to do that. We all have to learn our own bodies. This is vitally important and will save our lives!

To those we have lost in our community to Adrenal Insufficiency after treatment of Cushing’s, Rest in Peace my friends! Your legacies live on forever!

~ By Karen Ternier Thames

2014 in Review – Cushie Blog

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for the CushieBlog blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report – and fireworks!

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