Cushing’s Syndrome, Cortisol, and Cognitive Competency: A Case Report

Abstract

Glucocorticoids are associated with immunosuppression and neuropsychiatric complications. We describe the case of a carcinoid patient with Cushing’s syndrome (CS) and neurocognitive impairment due to ectopic ACTH production who developed sepsis and died because of his family’s decision to withdraw antibiotic treatment. This report is presented to illustrate the importance of advanced-care planning in patients with CS.

Key Words: Cushing’s syndrome, Carcinoid patient, Glucocorticoids, ACTH, Immunosuppression, Neurocognitive impairment, Advanced directives

Introduction

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is a general term for a cluster of endocrine abnormalities characterized by chronic cortisol overproduction. Characteristic clinical comorbidities include metabolic complications (e.g., visceral obesity, diabetes mellitus, and dyslipidemia), cardiovascular complications (e.g., systemic arterial hypertension, atherosclerosis, and thromboembolism), bone complications (e.g., osteoporosis and osteoarthritis) infective complications, and neuropsychiatric disorders (e.g., major depression, mania, anxiety, and cognitive impairment) [1]. CS may be exogenous and iatrogenic due to corticosteroid administration or endogenous due to excessive ACTH secretion, most commonly from a pituitary adenoma, referred to, somewhat confusingly, as Cushing’s disease, or less commonly from a nonpituitary tumor (ectopic CS) and primary adrenal neoplasms [2]. Several studies link untreated CS to fatal infectious complications [3]. This report describes the case of a 60-year-old carcinoid patient with cognitive impairment due to hypercortisolism from CS who developed bacteremia; his condition deteriorated, and he died after a decision was made to withdraw care.

Case Presentation

A 60-year-old male with metastatic bronchopulmonary neuroendocrine tumor treated on a clinical trial for over 5 months was admitted to the hospital with complaints of fever, agitation, and weakness. His medical history was significant for newly diagnosed CS secondary to ACTH secretion; he had been hospitalized 2 weeks earlier for CS-induced hyperglycemic crisis. On admission, the patient presented with classic cushingoid habitus of facial plethora, moon facies, muscle atrophy, abdominal striae, and truncal obesity. His physical examination was significant for bilateral crackles and agitation consistent with corticosteroid psychosis. The arterial blood gas analysis on room air was pH 7.497, PaCO2 29 mm Hg, PaO2 71 mm Hg, and oxygen saturation 95%.

Laboratory data were significant for hyperglycemia, hypokalemia, and leukocytosis with bandemia. The chest CT scan showed no definite evidence of pulmonary thromboembolism.

As respiratory failure was imminent, he was transferred to the intensive care unit and mechanically ventilated. The highest positive end-expiratory pressure and FiO2 required to maintain oxygenation were 5 cm H2O and 50%, respectively. Cultures were taken from bronchial secretions directly after endotracheal intubation and from urine and blood. The patient was diagnosed with Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia, and based on susceptibility testing, he was started on vancomycin and Zosyn. In addition to antibiotics, the patient received lisinopril for CS-induced hypertension and insulin sliding scale to control hyperglycemia.

Since high circulating levels of glucocorticoids due to ectopic ACTH secretion predispose to infection and impair immune function and clearance of bacteria, the immediate plan was to start him on mifepristone (600 mg daily) as a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist to counteract the immunosuppressive and cognitive effects of the endogenous hypercortisolism. As soon as the patient’s condition improved (which would have been expected given the known reversibility of hypercortisolism), cytoreductive chemotherapy would have been restarted to reduce the paraneoplastic stimulus. However, the patient’s family with medical power of attorney refused consent and withdrew him from the ventilator. The patient died shortly thereafter.

Discussion

Advance directives are written to guarantee autonomy in the event that individual decision-making capacity is lost due to disease severity or treatment [4]. However, as a blanket statement that may contain overly broad (or overly specific) prewritten blocks of text, especially for cancer patients, the content of advance directives may or may not necessarily apply to and/or the patient’s wishes may or may not be correctly interpreted during acute, temporary and potentially reversible conditions that occur during cancer treatment such as infection due to ectopic CS.

Given the potential for cognitive impairment and other acute sequelae such as difficult-to-treat infections from the development of ectopic CS, this case illustrates the importance of revisiting the advance directive when a medical diagnosis associated with temporary cognitive impairment such as CS is made.

Statement of Ethics

The authors have no ethical conflicts to disclose.

Disclosure Statement

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

References

1. Pivonello R, Simeoli C, De Martino MC, Cozzolino A, De Leo M, Iacuaniello D, Pivonello C, et al. Neuropsychiatric disorders in Cushing’s syndrome. Front Neurosci. 2015;9:129. [PMC free article][PubMed]
2. Tsigos C, Chrousos GP. Differential diagnosis and management of Cushing’s syndrome. Annu Rev Med. 1996;47:443–461. [PubMed]
3. Bakker RC, Gallas PR, Romijn JA, Wiersinga WM. Cushing’s syndrome complicated by multiple opportunistic infections. J Endocrinol Invest. 1998;21:329–333. [PubMed]
4. Halpern NA, Pastores SM, Chou JF, Chawla S, Thaler HT. Advance directives in an oncologic intensive care unit: a contemporary analysis of their frequency, type, and impact. J Palliat Med. 2011;14:483–489.[PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from Case Reports in Oncology are provided here courtesy of Karger Publishers

(For the General Public) Are there any advantages to human growth hormone?

Harvard Men’s Health Watch

Ask the doctor

Q. I’ve heard about the benefits of human growth hormone (HGH) for older individuals. Is this something I should try?

A. The benefits of HGH supplementation for older adults are unproven, and perhaps most telling is that these products have a negligible effect on HGH levels. In addition, there are concerns about potential side effects.

HGH comes in two forms: injections and pills. Since HGH injections are difficult to administer, pills are often preferred. Yet, these supplements do not actually contain HGH like injections do, because the hormone would quickly break down in the digestive tract. Instead, they contain amino acids that are absorbed by the body, which raises HGH levels. (They are also more expensive and can cost $100-plus for a month’s supply.)

HGH levels naturally decline as people age, which makes sense since our bodies stop growing during the late teenage years. So why would you need higher HGH levels later in life? The hype around HGH comes from a few studies that showed HGH injections can increase lean body mass and shrink body fat, which led to claims of HGH as an “anti-aging” hormone. However, the effects on strength and body weight are quite minimal. In addition, HGH can increase the amount of soft tissues in the body, which can lead to swelling, joint pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and breast tenderness in men.

There is also a concern that HGH might promote cancer growth. (MaryO’Note:  I always mentioned this to doctors when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer.  Even though I couldn’t take HGH for the first 5 years after diagnosis, none of my doctors would confirm a connection between HGH and my cancer)

If you want to improve your strength, forget about HGH and increase your exercise. Some studies suggest this alone may be more effective than HGH supplementation for raising growth hormone levels in the body.

—William Kormos, MD
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men’s Health Watch

Originally published: July 2016

Adapted from http://www.health.harvard.edu/mens-health/are-there-any-advantages-to-human-growth-hormone

Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone syndrome caused by neuroendocrine tumors of the thymus

Background and purpose: Thymic neuroendocrine carcinomas (TNECs) are extremely uncommon. Certain cases of TNECs can produce the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cause ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS). The current literature on this topic consists mainly of case reports, and therapeutic guidelines are lacking. The aim of this study was to discuss the diagnosis, surgical management, and prognosis of EAS caused by TNECs to improve clinical experience with this rare disease.

Methods: From June 1984 to June 2014, at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital, the surgical interventions and follow-up outcomes of 16 consecutive patients (eight men and eight women) with EAS caused by TNECs were retrospectively analyzed.

Results: The median age was 32.5 years (range: 13–47 years), and the median disease duration was 8.5 months (range: 1–150 months). All patients presented with clinical and biochemical evidence indicating a diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome.

Contrast-enhanced thoracic computed tomography scans were critical to locating the ACTH-producing tumor and evaluating the feasibility of resection. All patients underwent surgery. One patient died of septicemia in the intensive care unit 2 weeks after surgery. No other morbidity or mortality occurred during the perioperative period. The median overall survival (OS) was 41 months (95% CI: 30.3–51.7 months), and the progression-free survival was 28 months (95% CI: 21.6–34.3 months). Both overall survival (P=0.002) and progression-free survival (P=0.030) improved significantly after complete resection.

Conclusion: TNEC is an extremely aggressive disease that should be considered when treating patients with Cushing’s syndrome due to ectopic ACTH secretion. In particular, all suspected patients should undergo contrast-enhanced thoracic computed tomography scans to facilitate early diagnosis. The current first-line treatment is surgical resection, and complete resection is a favorable prognostic factor. However, additional patients and a longer follow-up will be needed to determine the variables that are predictive of survival and to improve patient prognosis.

Download this article at https://www.dovepress.com/ectopic-adrenocorticotropic-hormone-syndrome-caused-by-neuroendocrine–peer-reviewed-article-OTT

Day 27, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

I first saw a similar image to this one with the saying Life. Be in it at a recreation center when my son was little.  At the time, it was “Duh, of course I’m in it”.

The original image was one a couple males, a couple females and a dog walking/running.  No folks in wheelchairs, no older folks and certainly no zebras.

It would be nice to have everyone out there walking or running but that’s not real life, at least in the Cushie world.  It’s been a long time since I’ve really been In My Life – maybe it’s time to get back.

A dear friend who has not one, but two forms of cancer was traveling throughout Europe for the first time after her husband’s death wrote:

Some final words before I turn in for the night. If there is a spark of desire within you to do something which is not contrary to God’s Holy Law, find a way to make it happen. All things are possible and blessings abound for those who love Him. Life is such an adventure. Don’t be a spectator – live every single moment for Him and with Him.

Somedays, it’s hard even getting up in the morning but I’m trying.  I’ve tried Water Aerobics for People with Arthritis and I actually went to class twice a week, I got a “part-time” job four years ago, my son and I will play at Steinway Hall in NYC again in June, we have plans for another trip to Scotland to see/hear the Edinburgh Tattoo again.  This year, we plan to go to Lockerbie, as well!

This is the one and only life I’ll ever have and I want to make the most of it!

 

Day 22, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

This is a tough one.  Sometimes I’m in “why me” mode.  Why Cushing’s?  Why cancer?  Unfortunately, there’s not a thing I can do about either.  Cushing’s, who knows the risk factors?  For kidney cancer I found out the risk factors and nearly none apply to me. So why? But why not?  No particular reason why I should be exempt from anything.

Since there’s nothing to be done with the exception of trying to do things that could harm my remaining kidney, I have to try to make the best of things.  This is my life.  It could be better but it could be way worse.

One of the Challenge topics was to write about “My Dream Day” so here’s mine…

I’d wake up on my own – no snooze alarms – at about 8 am, sun streaming through the window.  I’d we well rested and not have had any nightmares the night before.  I remember my son is home for a visit but I let him sleep in for a while.

I’d get out for a bike ride or a brisk walk, come home, head for the hot tub then shower.  I’d practice the piano for a bit, then go out to lunch with friends, taking Michael with me.  While we’re out, the maid will come in and clean the house.

After lunch, maybe a little technology shopping/buying.  Then the group of us go to one of our homes for piano duets, trios, 2-piano music.

When we get home, it’s immaculately clean and I find that the Prize Patrol has visited and left a substantial check.

I had wisely left something for dinner in the Ninja so dinner is ready.  After dinner, I check online and find no urgent email, no work that needs to be done, no bills that need to be paid, no blog challenge posts to write…

I wake up from My Dream Day and realize that this is so far from real life, so I re-read The Best Day of My Life  and am happy that I’m not dealing with anything worse.

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