Comparison of MRI techniques for detecting microadenomas in Cushing’s disease

1Department of Neurological Surgery and 2Department of Radiology, University of Virginia Health Science Center, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia
ABBREVIATIONS ACTH = adrenocorticotropic hormone; CMRI = conventional MRI; DMRI = dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI; FSH = follicle-stimulating hormone; IPSS = inferior petrosal sinus sampling; SE = spin echo; SGE = spoiled-gradient echo 3D T1 sequence; SPGR = spoiled gradient–recalled acquisition; VIBE = volumetric interpolated breath-hold examination.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online April 28, 2017; DOI: 10.3171/2017.3.JNS163122.

Correspondence Edward H. Oldfield, Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Virginia, Box 800212, Charlottesville, VA 22908. email: .

Many centers use conventional and dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI (DMRI) sequences in patients with Cushing’s disease. The authors assessed the utility of the 3D volumetric interpolated breath-hold examination, a spoiled-gradient echo 3D T1 sequence (SGE) characterized by superior soft tissue contrast and improved resolution, compared with DMRI and conventional MRI (CMRI) for detecting microadenomas in patients with Cushing’s disease.


This study was a blinded assessment of pituitary MRI in patients with proven Cushing’s disease. Fifty-seven patients who had undergone surgery for Cushing’s disease (10 male, 47 female; age range 13–69 years), whose surgical findings were considered to represent a microadenoma, and who had been examined with all 3 imaging techniques were included. Thus, selection emphasized patients with prior negative or equivocal MRI on referral. The MRI annotations were anonymized and 4 separate imaging sets were independently read by 3 blinded, experienced clinicians: a neuroradiologist and 2 pituitary surgeons.


Forty-eight surgical specimens contained an adenoma (46 ACTH-staining adenomas, 1 prolactinoma, and 1 nonfunctioning microadenoma). DMRI detected 5 adenomas that were not evident on CMRI, SGE detected 8 adenomas not evident on CMRI, including 3 that were not evident on DMRI. One adenoma was detected on DMRI that was not detected on SGE. McNemar’s test for efficacy between the different MRI sets for tumor detection showed that the addition of SGE to CMRI increased the number of tumors detected from 18 to 26 (p = 0.02) based on agreement of at least 2 of 3 readers.


SGE shows higher sensitivity than DMRI for detecting and localizing pituitary microadenomas, although rarely an adenoma is detected exclusively by DMRI. SGE should be part of the standard MRI protocol for patients with Cushing’s disease.

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Reasons You Have Flab Around Your Abdomen

Some diseases and conditions could be responsible for your abdominal fat.
Mita Majumdar | Updated: April 24, 2017 6:15 pm

Visceral fat or unhealthy belly fat that surrounds the liver and other organs in the abdomen puts you at risk for serious health problems, such as, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. But, what causes your pot belly or beer fat in the first place? The most obvious answers you will get is – ‘You are not exercising enough’, or, ‘you are eating too much of fatty foods or sugary foods’, or ‘you are not eating the right foods’, or ultimately, ‘It’s genetics! You got it from your parents’. All of these reasons are true, of course. However, some diseases/ disorders and conditions, too, could be responsible for your abdominal fat and these have nothing to do with not exercising or not eating right. Following are some of these disorders.

Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome, also called hypercortisolism, is an endocrine disorder that occurs when your body is exposed to high cortisol levels over a long period of time. It is a treatable disorder, however, if it is chronic, the symptoms can last lifelong.

Symptoms: Symptoms vary according to the severity of the disorder. The characteristic symptoms include –

  • Fatty tissue deposits in the midsection
  • Fatty deposits in the upper back, especially between the shoulders, so that it resembles a hump
  • Puffy face
  • Violaceous stretch marks (pink or purple) on the arms, breast, stomach, and thighs that are more than 1 cm wide. [1]
  • Easy bruising
  • Fatigue
  • Hirsutism and irregularity in menstruation in women
  • Loss of libido and erectile dysfunction in men
  • Cognitive dysfunction, depression, unpredictable emotional outbursts, irritability is present in 70-85 percent of people with Cushing’s syndrome.[1]


  • Overuse of corticosteroids
  • Overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal glands


  • Surgery is the first line of treatment for Cushing’s syndrome.
  • Medication include: [2]

a.Pituitary gland directed therapy

b.Adrenal-blocking drugs

c.Glucocorticoid receptor-antagonizing drugs

  • Pituitary radiotherapy

Addison’s disease

Addison’s disease, also called adrenal insufficiency, is a disorder where your adrenal glands produce insufficient hormones, especially, glucocorticoids including cortisol and aldosterone. It is a life-threatening disease that can affect anyone irrespective of their gender or age.

How do glucocorticoids influence abdominal fats? Glucocorticoids including cortisol convert the fats into energy in the liver. They also help your body respond to stress. When sufficient amount of glucocorticoids are not produced by the adrenal glands, the fats accumulate in the abdominal area, and you see it as flab around your middle.


  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Low blood sugar and low blood pressure
  • Salt craving as one of the functions of adrenal glands is to maintain the sodium-potassium balance in the body
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
  • Weight loss but gain in abdominal fat


  • Insufficient production of adrenal cortex hormones
  • Stopping of prescribed corticosteroids
  • Tuberculosis and other infections of adrenal glands
  • Spread of cancer to the adrenal glands


  • Oral corticosteroids or corticosteroid injections
  • Intravenous injections of hydrocortisone, saline solution, and dextrose in case of Addisonian crisis


Chronic stress is a very big cause of belly fat. When you are exposed to stress, a chain reaction starts in the body because of the dysregulation of HPA axis of the neuroendocrine system. HPA axis is a complex interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. The hypothalamus produces a corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) and vasopressin. These together stimulate the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is transported by the blood to the adrenal glands, which then produces corticosteroids, mainly, cortisol from cholesterol. One of the functions of cortisol is to signal the body to store fat, and specifically, the fat storage occurs in the abdominal area, where the cortisol receptors are greater. Researchers have found that stress causes hyperactivation of HPA axis, leading to accumulation of fat tissue, especially in the abdomen region.

So, the more and longer you are stressed (or if you are chronically stressed), chances are that you will be carrying more belly fat!


Ascites is the buildup of fluid in the abdominal space. Ascites usually occurs in people with cancer, and it is then called malignant ascites. Onset of ascites is generally the terminal phase in cancer. Ascites also occurs in patients with liver cirrhosis, kidney failure, or heart disease.


The first sign of ascites is an increase in abdominal girth accompanied by weight gain. [4] Although it looks like it is belly fat, it is actually the fluid that causes the bulging.

Other symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling in the feet and ankle
  • Decreased appetite, sense of fullness, bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Haemorrhoids


If the ascites is not causing any discomfort, it may not require any treatment. Treatment of ascites can have many side effects. Talk to your doctor before you go in for management/ treatment.

Abdominal hernia

Abdominal hernia is a swelling or a bulge in the abdominal area where an organ or fatty tissue pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal wall. The abdominal wall is made up of tough connective tissue and tendons that stretch from the ribs to the groin. Depending on the position of the weakness in your abdominal wall, the hernia can be inguinal (groin), femoral (upper thigh), umbilical (belly button), hiatal (upper stomach), or even incisional. Incisional hernia can occur when the intestine pushes through a weak spot at the site of abdominal surgery.


  • Visible bulge that may or may not cause discomfort
  • Feeling of heaviness in the abdomen
  • Sharp pain when you strain or lift objects


  • Constipation and diarrhoea
  • Persistent coughing and sneezing
  • Straining or suddenly lifting a heavy object


  • Umbilical hernia, common in young children, mostly resolves by itself as the abdominal muscles get stronger.
  • Other abdominal hernia normally do not resolve by themselves. Doctors suggest waiting and watching.
  • If treatment is required, surgery is the only option. Surgery involves pushing the hernia back into the abdomen and repairing the abdominal wall.


Menopause is certainly not a disease or a disorder. It is the time in a woman’s life when she stops menstruating and cannot become pregnant because her ovaries stop producing the required amounts of hormones oestrogen and progesterone. A woman reaches menopause when she has not had her periods for 12 months.


  • Hot flashes and/ or night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances

It is very common to gain belly fat during menopause. This is because of the low oestrogen levels. Oestrogen seems to influence the distribution of fat in the body, in a way that the fat is redistributed from the hips, buttocks, and thighs to the belly. However, a study published in the journal Metabolism reported that though women did significantly gain belly fat, especially deep inside the belly, relative fat distribution is not significantly different after menopause. [5] But the fact remains that women do gain flab in the abdomen after menopause.

Belly fat can be seriously harmful. If your belly fat is not because of the above-mentioned conditions, you can lose it by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes sleeping enough, exercising regularly, eating right, and reducing stress.


  1. Sharma ST, Nieman LK, Feelders RA. Cushing’s syndrome: epidemiology and developments in disease management. Clinical Epidemiology. 2015;7:281-293. doi:10.2147/CLEP.S44336.
  1. Feelders RA, Hofland LJ. Medical treatment of Cushing’s disease. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013;98:425–438.
  1. Kyrou I, Chrousos GP, Tsigos C. Stress, visceral obesity, and metabolic complications. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2006 Nov;1083:77-110.
  1. Sinicrope FA. Ascites. In: Kufe DW, Pollock RE, Weichselbaum RR, et al., editors. Holland-Frei Cancer Medicine. 6th edition. Hamilton (ON): BC Decker; 2003.
  2. Franklin RM, Ploutz-Snyder L, Kanaley JA. Longitudinal changes in abdominal fat distribution with menopause. Metabolism. 2009 Mar;58(3):311-5. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.09.030.

Adapted from


Health Care Expenditure Burden High in Adrenal Insufficiency

Patients with adrenal insufficiency may accrue substantial health care costs and have more hospital stays and outpatient visits compared with healthy controls, according to findings published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Candace Gunnarsson, PhD, vice president of health economics and outcomes research at CTI Clinical Trial and Consulting in Cincinnati, and colleagues evaluated data from a U.S.-based payer database on 10,383 patients with adrenal insufficiency to determine the estimated annual health care burden among them.

Participants were divided into groups based on their type of adrenal insufficiency: primary adrenal insufficiency (n = 1,014), adrenal insufficiency secondary to pituitary disease (n = 8,818) or congenital adrenal hyperplasia (n = 551). A group of matched controls was also evaluated for comparison.

Total annual health care expenditures were significantly higher in the primary adrenal insufficiency group ($18,624 vs. $4,320), adrenal insufficiency secondary to pituitary disease group ($32,218 vs. $6,956) and the congenital adrenal hyperplasia group ($7,677 vs. $4,203) compared with controls. The adrenal insufficiency secondary to pituitary disease group had the highest health care expenditure estimated with an incremental health care burden of $25,262, followed by the primary adrenal insufficiency group ($14,304) and the congenital adrenal hyperplasia group ($3,474).

Compared with controls, participants with adrenal insufficiency spent eight to 10 times more days in the hospital and had up to twice as many outpatient visits per year.

“When comparing [adrenal insufficiency] patients within each cohort based on their drug regimen, patients receiving prednisone therapy vs. hydrocortisone therapy had significantly higher total annual expenditures in the [primary adrenal insufficiency] and [congenital adrenal hyperplasia] and significantly lower total expenditures in the [pituitary disease] cohort,” the researchers wrote. “Patients taking only hydrocortisone and meeting the threshold of 50% adherence were found to have lower expenditures when medication adherence was 75% or higher.” – by Amber Cox

Disclosure: Gunnarsson reports being an employee of CTI Clinical Trial and Consulting. Please see the full study for a list of all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.


Lower health-related quality of life observed in patients with Addison’s disease, Cushing’s syndrome

Patients with hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulations report health-related quality of life that is far lower than that of the general population, according to findings of a prospective study.

“In most centers, both patients with adrenal deficiency and patients with Cushing’s syndrome are managed by the same team,” Charlotte DeBucy, of the Center for Rare Adrenal Diseases at Cochin Hospital in Paris, and colleagues wrote. “Despite the usual perception that both types of diseases alter quality of life, few studies have similarly investigated the impact of cortisol dysregulations on [health-related quality of life]. Such studies are important, however, to identify meaningful differences that would be important to consider to improve management and outcome.”

De Bucy and colleagues analyzed data from 343 patients with Addison’s disease or Cushing’s syndrome followed in routine practice at a single center in France between September 2007 and April 2014 (78% women; mean age, 48 years; mean length of time since diagnosis, 7.8 years; 61% married). All participants completed the short-form health survey (SF-36), a survey of health-related quality-of-life measures and the 12-item general health questionnaire (GHQ-12), a measure of psychological well-being or distress. Questionnaires were completed at baseline and at 6, 12, 24 and 36 months. Patients with Cushing’s syndrome were also assessed for cortisol status at baseline and at follow-up evaluations.

Within the cohort, 206 had Cushing’s syndrome of pituitary origin, 91 had Cushing’s syndrome of adrenal origin and 46 patients had Addison’s disease; 16% were included in the study before any treatment was initiated.

Researchers found that mean standard deviation scores for psychological and physical dimensions of the SF-36 were “well below” those of the general population, but diagnosis, cortisol status and time since treatment initiation all influenced individual scores. Cushing’s syndrome of pituitary origin was associated with worse health-related quality of life, especially for physical functioning, social functioning and mental health. In Cushing’s syndrome, health-related quality of life was generally worse during periods of hypercortisolism, but scores for these patients were lower than those of patients with Addison’s disease even during periods of hypocortisolism or eucortisolism, according to the researchers.

“The differences were particularly large for physical functioning and role-physical subscales,” the researchers wrote.

They also found that mental health scores for patients with Cushing’s syndrome decreased during periods of hypocortisolism, whereas other adrenal conditions were associated with higher mental health scores.

More than half of patients, regardless of diagnosis and cortisol status, had psychological distress requiring attention, according to the GHQ-12 survey.

“Our findings are important for clinical practice,” the researchers wrote. “The consequences of cortisol dysregulation on [health-related quality of life] should be considered in the management of adrenal insufficiency and even more (in) Cushing’s syndrome patients, and these consequences can be long term, affecting apparently cured patients. Early information on these consequences might be helpful for patients who often perceive a poor quality of life as the result of inadequate disease control or treatment. Even if this possibility exists, knowing that adrenal diseases have long-lasting effects on [health-related quality of life] may be helpful for patients to cope with them.” – by Regina Schaffer

Disclosure: L’association Surrénales supported this study. The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.


Exogenous Cushing’s syndrome due to a Chinese herbalist’s prescription of ointment containing dexamethasone

BMJ Case Reports 2017; doi:10.1136/bcr-2016-218721


Eczema in children is a chronic disabling condition. The impact of this condition on the lives of families is often underestimated by conventional physicians. As a consequence parents may investigate complementary treatment options. Close monitoring by a paediatrician is essential, considering that a variety of adverse effects can occur during the use of complementary treatment.

We present a 5-year-old girl with eczema. She visited a Chinese herbalist who prescribed an ointment. The parents noticed that the eczema resolved fast, itching decreased and she was finally sleeping well. However, her behaviour changed and appetite increased. Undetectable levels of serum cortisol were found, which was indicative of exogenous Cushing’s syndrome. Analysis of the ointment revealed the presence of dexamethasone.

Hydrocortisone substitution and subsequently a reduction schedule were implemented, after which endogenous cortisol production recovered after 4 months. Physicians should be aware that unregistered herbal medicine can contain potent drugs such as glucocorticoids.



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