Mild Cases of Cushing’s Syndrome Present Diagnostic Challenges

By Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC

 

In the early 20th century, the term “pluriglandular syndrome” was coined by Harvey Cushing to describe the disorder that results from chronic tissue exposure to excessive levels of glucocorticoids.1 Now called Cushing’s syndrome, the condition affects an estimated 10-15 million people annually, most often women and individuals between the ages of 20 and 50 years.2 Risk factors and common comorbidities include hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, uncontrolled diabetes, depression, and anxiety.3

Presentation

The clinical presentation of the disorder is heterogenous and varies by sex, age, and disease severity. Common signs and symptoms include central adiposity, roundness of the face or extra fat around the neck, thin skin, impaired short-term memory and concentration, irritability, hirsutism in women, fatigue, and menstrual irregularity.4 Because each of these features may be observed in a wide range of other conditions, it may be difficult to diagnose cases that are not severe.

“It can be challenging to differentiate the milder forms from pseudo-Cushing’s states,” which are characterized by altered cortisol production and many of the same clinical features as Cushing’s syndrome, according to Roberto Salvatori, MD, the medical director of the Johns Hopkins Pituitary Center, Baltimore, Maryland. These may include alcoholism, obesity, eating disorders, and depression. “Because Cushing’s can cause depression, for example, it is sometimes difficult to determine which came first,” he says. In these states, however, hypercortisolism is believed to be driven by increased secretion of hypothalamic corticotropin-releasing hormone, which is suppressed in Cushing’s syndrome.5

Causes and Diagnosis

If Cushing’s syndrome is suspected on the basis of the patient’s physical appearance, the diagnostic workup should include a thorough medical history, physical exam, and 1 or more of the following tests to establish hypercortisolism: the 24-hour urinary cortisol test, the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test, or the late-night salivary cortisol test. “We sometimes use 2 or 3 of these tests since 1 may not accurately reflect cortisol production in a particular patient,” Dr Salvatori notes. The next step is to determine the source of the hypercortisolism, which may involve the high-dose dexamethasone suppression test, magnetic resonance imaging, or petrosal sinus sampling.2

Medication is the most common cause of Cushing’s syndrome. These iatrogenic or exogenous cases typically result from corticosteroids administered for conditions such as asthma, allergies, and autoimmune disorders.6 More rarely, the disorder can be caused by the use of medroxyprogesterone. In these cases, corticosteroids should be reduced or discontinued under medical care, if possible.

Endogenous Cushing’s syndrome results from the presence of benign or malignant tumors on the adrenal or pituitary glands or elsewhere in the body. These tumors can interfere with the adrenal glands’ production of cortisol that is usually prompted by the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) released by the pituitary gland.6 There are 3 different mechanisms by which the process can occur.

  • Pituitary adenomas, which account for approximately 70% of endogenous cases of Cushing’s syndrome, secrete ACTH and stimulate additional cortisol production. Because of the large proportion of cases this condition represents, it is specifically referred to as Cushing’s disease. It is more common in women than men (with a ratio of 3 to 4:1), although in pediatric patients, it occurs more frequently in boys vs girls.5
  • Adrenal tumors (adenomas, malignant tumors, or micronodular hyperplasia) produce cortisol in their own tissue in addition to the amount produced by the adrenal glands. These tumors, which cause approximately 15% of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome cases, are more common in children vs adults and in women vs men.
  • Benign or malignant tumors elsewhere in the body, most often the lungs, thyroid, thymus, and pancreas, secrete ACTH and trigger the excessive release of cortisol. An estimated 15% of endogenous cases are attributed to these types of tumors.

Treatment

Surgery is the first-line treatment for Cushing’s syndrome. “We first want to try to figure out the cause of the disorder,” Dr Salvatori says. “Ideally, treatment involves surgery to remove the tumor that is causing it.”

When surgery is unsuccessful, contraindicated, or delayed, other treatment options include radiation or medications that inhibit cortisol, modulate the release of ACTH, or inhibit steroidogenesis.5 Bilateral adrenalectomy may be indicated for patients who do not respond to medication or other surgery.

If surgical resection of the tumor is successful, then “all of the comorbidities reverse, but if it is unsuccessful or must be delayed, you would treat each comorbidity” with the appropriate medication; for example, antihypertensives for high blood pressure and antidiabetic medications for diabetes, Dr Salvatori advises. In severe cases, prophylactic antibiotics may be indicated for the prevention of severe infections such as pneumonia.

It is also important to inquire about and address psychiatric symptoms related to Cushing’s syndrome, even in patients who are in remission. It has been proposed that the chronic hypercortisolism and dysfunction of the HPA axis may “lead to structural and functional changes in the central nervous system, developing brain atrophy, particularly in the hippocampus, which may determine the high prevalence of psychiatric disorders, such as affective and anxiety disorders or cognitive dysfunctions,” according to a recently published paper on the topic.7 Patients should be screened with self-report questionnaires such as the Beck Depression Inventory and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, and management of psychiatric symptoms may include patient education, psychotropic medications, and referral to a mental health professional.

Future Directions

Several trials are currently planned or underway, including a phase 2 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of an oral medication called ATR-101 by Millendo Therapeutics, Inc. (ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT03053271). In addition to the need for novel medical therapies, refined imaging techniques could improve surgical success rates in patients with Cushing’s disease in particular, according to Dr Salvatori. “A significant portion of these patients have tumors too small to be detected by MRI, and the development of more sensitive MRI could improve detection and provide a surgical target” for neurosurgeons treating the patients, he says.

Summary

Milder cases of Cushing’s syndrome present diagnostic challenges are a result overlapping features with various other conditions. Diagnosis may require careful observation as well as biochemical and imaging tests.

References

  1. Loriaux DL. Diagnosis and differential diagnosis of Cushing’s syndromeN Engl J Med. 2017;376:1451-1459. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1505550
  2. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Cushing’s syndrome/disease. http://www.aans.org/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Cushings-Disease. Accessed August 1, 2017.
  3. León-Justel A, Madrazo-Atutxa A, Alvarez-Rios AI, et al. A probabilistic model for cushing’s syndrome screening in at-risk populations: a prospective multicenter studyJ Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016;101:3747-3754. doi:10.1210/jc.2016-1673
  4. The Pituitary Society. Cushing’s syndrome and disease–symptoms. https://pituitarysociety.org/patient-education/pituitary-disorders/cushings/symptoms-of-cushings-disease-and-cushings-syndrome. Accessed August 1, 2017.
  5. Sharma ST, Nieman LK, Feelders RA. Cushing’s syndrome: epidemiology and developments in disease managementClin Epidemiol. 2015;7:281-293. doi:10.2147/CLEP.S44336
  6. National Institutes of Health: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What causes Cushing’s syndrome?https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/cushing/conditioninfo/pages/causes.aspx. Accessed August 1, 2017.
  7. Santos A, Resmini E, Pascual JC, Crespo I, Webb SM. Psychiatric symptoms in patients with Cushing’s syndrome: prevalence, diagnosis and management. Drugs. 2017;77:829-842. doi:10.1007/s40265-017-0735-z

From http://www.endocrinologyadvisor.com/adrenal/cushings-syndrome-diagnosis-treatment/article/682302/

Adrenal myelolipoma(s) as presenting manifestation of subclinical Cushing’s disease (eutopic ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome)

  1. Partha Pratim Chakraborty1,
  2. Shinjan Patra1,
  3. Sugata Narayan Biswas1,
  4. Rana Bhattacharjee2

+Author Affiliations


  1. 1Department of MedicineMidnapore Medical College and HospitalMidnaporeWest Bengal, India

  2. 2Department of Endocrinology and MetabolismIPGME&R/SSKM HospitalKolkataWest Bengal, India
  1. Correspondence to Dr Partha Pratim Chakraborty, docparthapc@yahoo.co.in
  • Accepted 5 August 2017
  • Published 16 August 2017

Summary

Primary adrenal myelolipomas, relatively rare benign tumours of the adrenal cortex are typically unilateral, hormonally inactive and asymptomatic, hence often diagnosed as ‘adrenal incidentaloma’. Bilateral adrenal myelolipomas, in particular, may be associated with underlying endocrinopathies associated with elevated circulating adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) concentration.

Subclinical cortisol hypersecretion, irrespective of its ACTH dependency, does not manifest typical clinical phenotype of hypercortisolemia, and thus termed subclinical Cushing’s syndrome.

In this article, hormonal evaluation in a middle-aged woman with diabetes, hypertension and incidentally discovered unilateral adrenal myelolipoma revealed underlying subclinical Cushing’s disease. Abdominal CT revealed another tiny focus in the contralateral adrenal gland, probably representing incipient myelolipoma.

From (you may buy the whole article at this link) http://casereports.bmj.com/content/2017/bcr-2017-221674.short?rss=1

Growth Hormone: Drug companies are growing less generous in helping patients pay for meds

For 14 years, Encino resident Ed Wright received an expensive prescription medication for free through a drug-industry program intended to assist people with limited or fixed incomes.

Now he’s rationing his doses after a change to the program that imposed a $1,100 deductible before he can get a refill.

“I can’t afford that,” Wright, 75, told me. “When I run out in a few weeks, that’s going to be it.”

He isn’t alone. Industry watchers say soaring drug prices have prompted many pharmaceutical companies to rethink long-standing programs to help subsidize purchases or even give meds away for free.

“More and more people have become aware of these programs, and demand has gone up,” said David P. Wilson, president of PRAM Insurance Services, a Brea firm that helps employers with prescription-drug benefits.

This means trouble for patients who, like Wright, can’t handle sticker shock at the drugstore.

He suffered a head injury 17 years ago that damaged his pituitary gland. In 2003, he was diagnosed as having an abnormally low level of growth hormone, which caused him to suddenly become overwhelmed with fatigue.

That’s a potentially life-threatening condition if an episode should occur while driving, walking down stairs or performing some other physical activity.

Wright’s doctor prescribed the self-injected human growth hormone Humatrope, manufactured by Eli Lilly & Co.

The cost, however, was out of reach for Wright, even with Medicare Part D. According to the drug-pricing website GoodRX, a 6-milligram cartridge of Humatrope — a one month’s supply — runs about $700.

Luckily, Wright’s fixed income made him eligible for a program called Lilly Cares, which made the drug available free of charge. He and his doctor would renew the paperwork annually, and for 14 years Wright had no difficulty receiving the med.

That’s no longer the case with the new $1,100 deductible, which requires Wright to spend that amount on prescription drugs before he can access his free Humatrope.

Wright requires few other drugs, so the deductible is an almost insurmountable barrier to maintaining normal quality of life.

Most drugmakers offer what are known as patient assistance programs, through which the company may provide meds directly to patients at little or no cost. Or the company may assist with co-payments — the patient’s out-of-pocket expense that’s not covered by an insurer.

2009 study published in the journal Health Affairs found that most patient assistance programs run by drug companies were reluctant to disclose details of the number of people they serve or the program’s eligibility requirements.

These programs “exist to provide patients with access to a wide variety of medications,” researchers concluded. However, “many details about these programs remain unclear. As a result, the extent to which these programs provide a safety net to patients is poorly understood.”

Aaron Tidball, chief Medicare advisor for the Illinois consulting firm Allsup, which assists individuals and businesses in navigating the public insurance system, said Lilly Cares “has been more generous than some programs we’ve seen.”

He said that, until now, people who qualified for Lilly’s assistance were able to receive whatever specialty meds that were prescribed by their doctor without cost or co-pay.

It should be noted, though, that Lilly has structured its program so the company benefits as well. Rather than provide drugs directly to patients, as many companies do, Lilly donates its medications to a private foundation, the Lilly Cares Foundation, which in turn deals with the public.

This allows Lilly to deduct the value of its donated drugs from its taxes. According to the nonprofit foundation’s 2015 tax return, which by law must be made public, the Lilly Cares Foundation received more than $408 million worth of drugs from the company. That figure represented the “fair market value” of the meds.

“That’s obviously a lot more than the cost to produce the drugs,” observed Jeff Geida, a Los Angeles estate lawyer who specializes in nonprofit foundations and who examined the most recent Lilly Cares tax return at my request.

In other words, Lilly was able to reduce its taxable income for the year by $408 million, although the actual expense of manufacturing the donated drugs almost certainly was just a fraction of the deducted amount.

“It’s a very good deal,” Geida said.

To be sure, the company is still doing enormous good by making millions of dollars worth of drugs available to people in need. But the inflated figures highlight the lack of transparency surrounding the true cost of prescription meds.

Julie Williams, a Lilly spokeswoman, declined to answer my questions about the Lilly Cares Foundation. But she forwarded a statement from Steven Stapleton, the foundation’s president.

He said the foundation imposed the $1,100 deductible for Medicare Part D beneficiaries “after benchmarking our program with other similar programs, helping Lilly Cares to balance all the criteria for the program and to try to help as many people as possible.”

That’s just gibberish to my ear — and doesn’t address the fact that Lilly still helps itself to that whopping tax deduction while making it considerably harder for low-income people to receive assistance.

I called the foundation and spoke with a service rep, but she said she didn’t know why the deductible was put in place. Nor could she explain how it’s in the best interest of patients with limited incomes to have to spend $1,100 on drugs before being eligible to receive a needed medicine.

Stapleton said notifications were sent to program participants in the fall of 2015 and 2016, but Wright told me he couldn’t recall receiving any such notice. The office manager of his doctor’s practice said she too was caught by surprise.

Lilly Cares made the situation even more inexplicable when it sent a notice to Wright last month formally dropping him from the program. The only reason it gave was “inactivity,” which made no sense considering that he’s been using Humatrope steadily for 14 years.

Williams, the Lilly spokeswoman, said she couldn’t discuss an individual patient.

Wright told me that, after I started poking around, he received a call from a Lilly representative. She advised him to contact the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, an industry-sponsored service intended to help people find subsidy programs that can help cover the high cost of their meds.

Wright contacted four subsidy programs through the service. Each one turned him down.

Lilly says it’s balancing all the criteria for Lilly Cares, which undoubtedly will make the company more profitable.

Wright, and the many other patients in similar positions, are a secondary consideration.

From http://www.latimes.com/business/lazarus/la-fi-lazarus-prescription-drug-assistance-20170815-story.html

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