Cushing’s syndrome in a child


Cushing’s syndrome is a rare entity in children. Adrenal tumour is the common cause of this syndrome in young children, whereas, iatrogenic causes are more common among older children. We report a 4 year old male child diagnosed with Cushing syndrome due to a right adrenal adenoma; the child presented with obesity and increase distribution of body hair. After thorough investigation and control of hypertension and dyselectrolytemia, right adrenalectomy was performed. The patient had good clinical recovery with weight loss and biochemical resolution of Cushing’s syndrome.

1. Introduction

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is rarely encountered in children. The overall incidence of Cushing syndrome is approximately 2–5 new cases per million people per year. Only approximately 10% of the new cases each year occur in children [1]. Unlike in adults, a male-to-female predominance have been observed in infants and young toddlers [[1][2][3]]. Although iatrogenic causes are common in children above seven years of age, adrenal causes (adenoma, carcinoma or hyperplasia) are common in children of younger age [4]. We report a 4 year old boy diagnosed with Cushing syndrome caused by a right adrenal adenoma, who had presented with obesity and increase distribution of body hair. Right adrenalectomy was performed and clinical stabilization resulted in weight loss and biochemical resolution of Cushing’s syndrome. (see Fig. 5)

2. Case report

A 4 years old boy presented with complaints of excessive weight gain of 5 months duration and increase frequency of micturition and appearance of body hair for 4 months. There was no history of any other illness, medication or steroid intake. The child was first born at term by normal vaginal delivery and birth weight of 3 kg. Physical examination revealed a chubby boy with moon face, buffalo hump, protruding abdomen, increase body hair and appearance of coarse pubic hair (Fig. 1). His intelligent quotient (IQ) was appropriate for his age and sex. His younger sibling was in good health and other family members did not have any metabolic or similar problems.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1. The child with moon face, protruded abdomen and coarse body hair.

The patient’s body length was 92cm (between -2SD to -3SD), weight 20kg (between 1 SD and 2 SD), weight for height >3SD, and BMI was 23.6 (BMI for age >3 SD). His blood pressure on right arm in lying position was 138/76 mm Hg (above 99th percentile for height and age).

Investigations: Morning 8am serum cortisol level – 27.3 μg/dl (normal: 6–23 μg/dl).

with a concurrent plasma ACTH level of < 5 pg/ml (n value < 46 pg/ml).

His serum cortisol following low dose dexamethasone suppression test (1mg dexamethasone at 11pm) at 8 am next morning was 22.1 μug/dl and his 24 hours urine catecholamine fraction was within normal limit.

HB % — 10.3 gm/dl; LDDST — 25 μg/dl; FBS — 106 mg/dl.

Serum Na+ – 140.6mmol/l; K+ – 2.83mmol/l; Ca+ – 8.7 mg/dl.

S. Creatinine −0.3 mg/dl.

Ultrasonography of abdomen revealed a heterogenous predominantly hypoechoic right supra renal mass. Contrast enhanced CT abdomen revealed well defined soft tissue density lesion (size −5.2 cm × 5.2 cm x 5.7cm) in right adrenal gland with calcifications and fat attenuations showing mild attenuation on post contrast study (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2

Fig. 2. CECT shows right adrenal mass with calcification and mild attenuation on post-contrast study.

The child was started on oral amlodipine 2.5mg 12hourly; after 5days blood pressure became normal. For hypokalemia oral potassium was given @20 meq 8 hourly and serum potassium value became normal after 4 days. Right laparoscopic adrenalectomy was planned. but due to intra operative technical problems it was converted to an open adrenalectomy with right subcostal incision. A lobulated mass of size 9 cm × 5 cm x 4 cm with intact capsule was excised. The tumour weighed 230 gm. There was no adhesion with adjacent organs, three regional nodes were enlarged but without any tumour tissue. Inferior vena cava was spared. Histopathology report was consistent with adrenal adenoma (Fig. 3) (see Fig. 4).

Fig. 3

Fig. 3. Cut section of tumour shows fleshy mass with fatty tissue.

Fig. 4

Fig. 4. Microphotograph (100 × 10) showing intact capsule and adrenal tumour cells, which are larger in size with nuclear pleomorphism, inconspicuous nucleoli, cytoplasm of the tumour cells are abundant, eosinophilic and vacuolated.

Fig. 5

Fig. 5. Physical appearance 4 months after adrenalectomy.

Post operative management: during post operative period hypokalemia and flaxuating blood sugar level was managed with oral potassium and oral glucose supplement. patient developed mild cough and respiratory distress on post op day 2, it was managed with salbutamol nebulization and respiratory physio therapy. Patient developed minor ssi and discharged on 10 th post operative day with oral prednisolone supplementation.

Follow up: the patient was followed up 2week after discharge and then every monthly, the oral prednisolone was gradually tapered and completely withdrawn on 2nd month after surgery.The patient experienced no post-surgical complications. After 4 months of surgery he reduces 6 kgs of his body weight with BMI of 16.5 (between median and 1SD) & BP 100/74 mm hg (within normal range), the moon face, buffalo hump, central obesity disappeared, morning 8am serum cortisol level was found within normal range 14 μg/dl (n value 6–23 μg/dl).

3. Discussion

Cushing’s syndrome is caused by prolonged exposure to supraphysiological levels of circulating glucocorticoids, which may be endogenously or exogenously derived. During infancy, CS is usually associated with McCune-Albright syndrome; adrenocortical tumours most commonly occur in children under four years of age and Cushing’s disease (ACTH dependent) is the commonest cause of CS after five years of age [5]. Primary adrenocortical tumours (ACTs) account for only 0.3–0.4% of all childhood neoplasms. Almost a third of these tumours manifests as Cushing syndrome and over 70% of the unilateral tumours in young children are often malignant [2,3,6,7]. There seems to be a bimodal incidence of these tumours, with one peak at under 5 years of age and the second one in the fourth or fifth decades of life. ACTs may be associated with other syndromes, such as, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Beckwith-wiedemann syndrome, isolated hemihypertrophy, or even a germline point mutation of P53 tumour suppressor gene as reported in a series from Brazil [8]. In comparison to adult CS, growth failure with associated weight gain is one of the most reliable indicators of hypercortisolaemia in pediatric CS. The parents often fail to notice facial changes and growth failure and hence the diagnosis is often delayed. In one study, the mean time from appearing symptoms to diagnosis in 33 children with Cushing’s disease was 2.5 years [5]. More recently the comparison of height and BMI SDS measurements provided a sensitive diagnostic discriminator in pediatric patients with CD and those with simple obesity [9]. In the present case, the parents observed noticeable changes in his face and presence of body hair, which made them to bring the child to medical attention. A review of 254 children on the International Pediatric Adrenocortical Tumour Registry identified virilization as the most common manifestation [10]. About 10% of the tumours can be non-functional at presentation, and approximately one third of pediatric patients present with hypertension. Majority of patients (192/254) in the Registry had localized disease and metastatic disease was found in less than 5% of cases. Older children with CS or mixed androgen and cortisol secreting adrenocortical tumours had a worse prognosis compared to younger children [10]. The present case had mild hypertension as well as dyselectrolytemia at presentation, which could be controlled with medication. He had a single adenoma confined to the adrenal gland and there was no evidence of malignancy. After surgical excision of the tumour and the right adrenal gland, the patient made rapid improvement in clinical condition and has been on follow up for last 7 months.

4. Conclusion

Pediatric adrenocortical tumours (ACTs) are most commonly encountered in females and in children less than four years. But our case being an 4-year-old boy forms a rare presentation of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome due to adrenal adenoma. Cushing’s syndrome in this child was controlled after right adrenalectomy.

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Declaration of competing interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.


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