2 Health Conditions That Can Cause Hyperpigmentation

Addison’s disease: Hyperpigmentation is a classic symptom of Addison’s disease, an endocrine disorder in which the adrenal glands fails to produce steroid hormone. The disease causes darkening of the skin in certain areas.

Cushing’s syndrome: The abnormal amount of cortisol in the human body causes a condition known as the Cushing’s syndrome. And one of the symptoms of the disorder is hyperpigmentation of the skin.

Adapted from http://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/health-conditions-that-can-cause-hyperpigmentation/

Patients Undergoing Adrenalectomy Should Receive Steroid Substitutive Therapy

All patients who undergo removal of one adrenal gland due to Cushing’s syndrome (CS) or adrenal incidentaloma (AI, adrenal tumors discovered incidentally) should receive a steroid substitutive therapy, a new study shows.

The study, “Predictability of hypoadrenalism occurrence and duration after adrenalectomy for ACTH‐independent hypercortisolism,” was published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation.

CS is a rare disease, but subclinical hypercortisolism, an asymptomatic condition characterized by mild cortisol excess, has a much higher prevalence. In fact, subclinical hypercortisolism, is present in up to 20 percent of patients with AI.

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) is composed of the hypothalamus, which releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) that acts on the pituitary to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), that in turn acts on the adrenal gland to release cortisol.

To avoid excess cortisol production, high cortisol levels tell the hypothalamus and the pituitary to stop producing CRH and ACTH, respectively. Therefore, as CS and AI are characterized by high levels of cortisol, there is suppression of the HPA axis.

As the adrenal gland is responsible for the production of cortisol, patients might need steroid substitutive therapy after surgical removal of AI. Indeed, because of HPA axis suppression, some patients have low cortisol levels after such surgeries – clinically known as post-surgical hypocortisolism (PSH), which can be damaging to the patient.

While some researchers suggest that steroid replacement therapy should be given only to some patients, others recommend it should be given to all who undergo adrenalectomy (surgical removal of the adrenal gland).

Some studies have shown that the severity of hypercortisolism, as well as the degree of HPA axis suppression and treatment with ketoconazole pre-surgery in CS patients, are associated with a longer duration of PSH.

Until now, however, there have been only a few studies to guide in predicting the occurrence and duration of PSH. Therefore, researchers conducted a study to determine whether HPA axis activity, determined by levels of ACTH and cortisol, could predict the occurrence and duration of PSH in patients who undergo an adrenalectomy.

Researchers studied 80 patients who underwent adrenalectomy for either CS or AI. Prior to the surgery, researchers measured levels of ACTH, urinary free cortisol (UFC), and serum cortisol after 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test (1 mg-DST).

After the surgery, all patients were placed on steroid replacement therapy and PSH was determined after two months. For those with PSH, levels of cortisol were determined every six months for at least four years.

Results showed that PSH occurred in 82.4 percent of CS patients and 46 percent of AI patients. PSH lasted for longer than 18 months in 50 percent of CS and 30 percent of AI patients. Furthermore, it lasted longer than 36 months for 35.7 percent of CS patients.

In all patients, PSH was predicted by pre-surgery cortisol levels after the 1 mg-DST, but with less than 70 percent accuracy.

In AI patients, a shorter-than-12-month duration of PSH was not predicted by any HPA parameter, but was significantly predicted by an absence of pre-surgery diagnosis of subclinical hypercortisolism.

So, this study did not find any parameters that could significantly predict with high sensitivity and specificity the development or duration of PSH in all patients undergoing adrenalectomy.

Consequently, the authors concluded that “the PSH occurrence and its duration are hardly predictable before surgery. All patients undergoing unilateral adrenalectomy should receive a steroid substitutive therapy.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/12/08/therapy-cushings-patients-adrenalectomy/

Doctors Use Microwave Therapy on Cushing’s Patient Too Weak to Have Surgery

Microwave therapy improved the Cushing’s syndrome of a woman whose lungs had almost failed, allowing her to have the adrenal surgery needed to control her disease, a case study showed.

Lung infections had led to her near-respiratory failure.

Cushing’s syndrome stems from the pituitary gland producing excessive amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone. Too much of the hormone leads to the adrenal glands generating excessive amounts of another hormone, cortisol — and that overproduction results in Cushing’s. The disease’s symptoms include increasing obesity, skin problems, muscle weakness, bone loss, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, and an inability to control emotions.

Doctors often remove patients’ adrenal glands to prevent cortisol production. But in this case, the patient was not in good enough condition to have the surgery. So doctors used microwave technology to reduce her cortisol levels to the point where surgeons could operate.

The case study, published in BMJ Case Reports, was titled “Ectopic ACTH syndrome complicated by multiple opportunistic infections treated with percutaneous ablation of the adrenal glands.

Excessive pituitary gland production of adrenocorticotropic hormone is the cause of 80 percent of Cushing’s cases.

In 5 to 10 percent of cases, a tumor in another part of the body also produces the hormone, leading to excessive amounts of it in the body. When a tumor is generating the hormone, the condition is called ectopic ACTH syndrome. The patient in the case study had ACTH syndrome.

The 63-year-old woman had complained to her family doctor about weight gain, headache, weakness, and flushing. When laboratory tests led to her being diagnosed with ectopic ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome, she was admitted to a hospital’s internal medicine department.

Doctors planned surgery to remove her adrenal glands, but two days before the operation was scheduled, respiratory failure sent her to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. There, physicians treated her for two infections in her lungs, plus infections in her blood and urinary tract. She experienced serious medical complications while in the Intensive Care Unit.

After a month, she was in good enough condition to leave intensive chair but too frail for surgery. Instead, doctors used microwaves to destroy as much of her adrenal glands as they could.

Within two weeks, her condition was better. She had been unable to leave her hospital bed while in intensive care. After the microwave treatment, she engaged in physiotherapy that led to her being able to use a two-wheeled walker to go short distances. She could also make short excursions outside the hospital with her family.

Six months later she returned to the hospital for surgical removal of her adrenal glands.

There were no complications from the operation, and doctors discharged her two days later. Her cortisol levels have been at acceptable levels since then.

“Our experience demonstrates that percutaneous ablation is a viable alternative in patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome in whom medical therapy has failed and surgical adrenalectomy is not feasible,” the researchers wrote. “Further research comparing the efficacy and complication rates between percutaneous ablation [microwave therapy] and surgical adrenalectomy is needed.” In addition, “research is needed to determine the optimal method of percutaneous intervention,” the team wrote.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/12/01/case-study-shows-microwave-therapy-helped-cushings-patient-who-was-too-frail-for-surgery/

High Cortisol Levels, as Seen in Cushing’s, Can Lead to Greater Risk of Heart Disease, Study Finds

People with high cortisol levels have lower muscle mass and higher visceral fat deposits, putting them at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, new research shows.

High levels of cortisol can result from a variety of reasons, including Cushing’s disease and adrenal tumors. Most adrenal tumors are found to be non-functioning, meaning they do not produce excess hormones. However, up to 47 percent of patients have mild autonomous cortisol excess (MACE).

The study, “Impact of hypercortisolism on skeletal muscle mass and adipose tissue mass in patients with adrenal adenomas,” was published in the journal Clinical Endocrinology.

Long-term studies have shown that as a group, patients with MACE tend to have increased cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM2), obesity, and high lipid levels, which are associated with higher cardiovascular death rates.

Abdominal adiposity, which refers to fat deposits around the abdomen and stomach, and central sarcopenia, referring to loss of skeletal muscle mass, are both known to be linked to higher cardiovascular risk and increased mortality.

Overt hypercortisolism is known to lead to increased visceral adiposity (body fat stored within the abdominal cavity) and muscle loss. However, little is known about the body composition of patients with adrenal adenomas and MACE.

Therefore, researchers set out to determine whether central sarcopenia and adiposity are present in patients with MACE, and whether they can be markers of disease severity in patients with adrenal adenomas. To determine this, researchers used body composition measurements of 25 patients with Cushing’s disease, 48 patients with MACE, and 32 patients with non-functioning adrenal tumors (NFAT) using abdominal CTs.

Specifically, researchers looked at visceral fat, subcutaneous fat, and total abdominal muscle mass. Visceral fat refers to fat around organs, and it is “deeper” than subcutaneous fat, which is closer to the skin.

Results showed that, compared to patients with non-functional tumors, those with Cushing’s disease had a higher visceral to total (V/T) fat ratio but a lower visceral to subcutaneous (V/S) fat ratio. In MACE patients, however, both ratios were decreased compared to patients with non-functional tumors.

Cushing’s disease patients also had 10 cm2  less total muscle mass, compared to patients with non-functional tumors.

An overnight dexamethasone suppression test was conducted in these patients to determine levels of cortisol in the blood. The next morning, cortisol levels were checked. High levels of cortisol indicate the presence of a disease, such as MACE or Cushing’s disease.

After administering the test, researchers determined that for an increase in cortisol in the morning, there was a correlating increase in the V/T ratio and the V/S fat ratio, and a decrease in the mean total muscle mass.

Therefore, the higher the degree of hypercortisolism, the lower the muscle mass and the higher the visceral adiposity.

These results could prove to be clinically useful as both visceral adiposity and low muscle mass are risk factors of a number of diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

“Body composition measurement may provide an additive value in making a diagnosis of clinically important MACE and aid in individualizing management of patients with ACAs and MACE,” the researchers concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/11/30/cushings-disease-high-cortisol-levels-leads-to-greater-risk-heart-disease/

The Challenge of Obesity in Diagnosing Cushing’s Syndrome and Strategies to Improve Methods

The effects of obesity on the diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome and strategies to alter the traditional approaches have been addressed in a new review study.

The study, “Diagnosis and Differential Diagnosis of Cushing’s Syndrome,” appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine. The author was Dr. Lynn D. Loriaux, MD and PhD, and a professor of medicine at the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition at the School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), in Portland, Oregon.

Traditionally, exams of patients with glucocorticoid excess focused on the presence of changes in anabolism (the chemical synthesis of molecules). Given the increase in obesity in the general population, changes in anabolism can no longer distinguish Cushing’s syndrome from metabolic syndrome.

However, analyses of anti-anabolic changes of cortisol – including osteopenia (lower bone density), thin skin, and ecchymoses (injury that causes subcutaneous bleeding) – are an effective way to make this distinction.

The worldwide prevalence of metabolic syndrome in obese people is estimated at about 10%. Conversely, the incidence of undiagnosed Cushing’s syndrome is about 75 cases per 1 million people.

Cushing’s and metabolic syndrome share significant clinical similarities, including obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, “making the diagnosis is the least certain aspect in the care of patients with [Cushing’s],” Loriaux wrote.

Regarding a physical examination, patients with osteoporosis, reduced skin thickness in the middle finger, and three or more ecchymoses larger than 1 cm in diameter and not associated with trauma are more likely to have Cushing’s. Researchers estimate the probability of people with all three of these symptoms having Cushing’s syndrome is 95%.

Measuring 24-hour urinary-free cortisol levels allows the assessment of excess glucocorticoid effects, typical of Cushing’s syndrome. The test, which should be done with the most stringent techniques available, averages the augmented secretion of cortisol in the morning and the diminished secretion in the afternoon and at night.

Dexamethasone suppression is one of the currently used screening tests for Cushing’s syndrome. Patients with obesity and depression should not show decreased plasma cortisol levels when dexamethasone is suppressed. However, given its low estimated predictive value (the proportion of positive results that are “true positives”), “this test should not influence what the physician does next and should no longer be used” to screen for Cushing’s, the author wrote.

Some patients may show evidence of Cushing’s syndrome at a physical examination, but low urinary free cortisol excretion. This may be due to glucocorticoids being administered to the patient. In this case, the glucocorticoid must be identified and discontinued. Periodic Cushing’s assessments that measure urinary free cortisol should be performed.

The opposite can also occur: no clinical symptoms of Cushing’s, but elevated urinary free cortisol excretion and detectable plasma levels of the hormone corticotropin. In these patients, the source of corticotropin secretion, which can be a tumor or the syndrome of generalized glucocorticoid resistance, must be determined.

The disease process can be corticotropin-dependent or independent, depending on whether the hormone is detectable. Corticotropin in Cushing’s syndrome can come from the pituitary gland (eutopic) or elsewhere in the body (ectopic).

Loriaux recommends that the source of corticotropin secretion be determined before considering surgery. Up to 40% of patients with pituitary adenomas have nonfunctioning tumors (the tumor does not produce any hormones) and the corticotropin source is elsewhere. If misdiagnosed, patients will likely undergo an unnecessary surgery, with a mortality rate of 1%.

Patients with an ectopic source of corticotropin should undergo imaging studies in the chest, followed by abdominal and pelvic organs. If these tests fail to detect the source, patients should undergo either the blockade of cortisol synthesis or an adrenalectomy (removal of adrenal glands).

However, corticotropin-independent Cushing’s is usually caused by a benign adrenal tumor that uniquely secretes cortisol.

“Such tumors can be treated successfully with laparoscopic adrenalectomy,” Loriaux wrote. If the tumor secretes more than one hormone, it is likely malignant. Surgical to remove the tumor and any detectable metastases should be conducted.

Overall, “the treatment for all causes of [Cushing’s syndrome], other than exogenous glucocorticoids, is surgical, and neurosurgeons, endocrine surgeons, and cancer surgeons are needed,” Loriaux wrote in the study.

“This level of multidisciplinary medical expertise is usually found only at academic medical centers. Thus, most, if not all, patients with [Cushing’s syndrome] should be referred to such a center for treatment.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/10/24/diagnosing-cushings-syndrome-amid-challenge-of-obesity-and-strategies-to-improve-methods/

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