Earwax may reveal how stressed you are

How stressed are you? Your earwax could hold the answer.

A new method of collecting and analyzing earwax for levels of the stress hormone cortisol may be a simple and cheap way to track the mental health of people with depression and anxiety.

Cortisol is a crucial hormone that spikes when a person is stressed and declines when they’re relaxed. In the short-term, the hormone is responsible for the “fight or flight” response, so it’s important for survival. But cortisol is often consistently elevated in people with depression and anxiety, and persistent high levels of cortisol can have negative effects on the immune system, blood pressure and other bodily functions.

There are other disorders which involve abnormal cortisol, including Cushing’s disease (caused by the overproduction of cortisol) and Addison’s disease (caused by the underproduction of cortisol). People with Cushing’s disease have abnormal fat deposits, weakened immune systems and brittle bones. People with Addison’s disease have dangerously low blood pressure.

There are a lot of ways to measure cortisol: in saliva, in blood, even in hair. But saliva and blood samples capture only a moment in time, and cortisol fluctuates significantly throughout the day. Even the experience of getting a needle stick to draw blood can increase stress, and thus cortisol levels. Hair samples can provide a snapshot of cortisol over several months instead of several minutes, but hair can be expensive to analyze — and some people don’t have much of it.

Andrés Herane-Vives, a lecturer at University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Institute of Psychiatry, and his colleagues instead turned to the ear. Earwax is stable and resistant to bacterial contamination, so it can be shipped to a laboratory easily for analysis. It also can hold a record of cortisol levels stretching over weeks.

But previous methods of harvesting earwax involved sticking a syringe into the ear and flushing it out with water, which can be slightly painful and stressful. So Herane-Vives and his colleagues developed a swab that, when used, would be no more stressful than a Q-tip. The swab has a shield around the handle, so that people can’t stick it too far into their ear and damage their eardrum, and a sponge at the end to collect the wax.

In a small pilot study, researchers collected blood, hair and earwax from 37 participants at two different time points. At each collection point, they sampled earwax using a syringe from one ear, and using the new self-swab method from the other. The researchers then compared the reliability of the cortisol measurements from the self-swab earwax with that of the other methods.

They found that cortisol was more concentrated in earwax than in hair, making for easier analysis. Analyzing the self-swabbed earwax was also faster and more efficient than analyzing the earwax from the syringe, which had to be dried out before using. Finally, the earwax showed more consistency in cortisol levels compared with the other methods, which were more sensitive to fluctuations caused by things like recent alcohol consumption. Participants also said that self-swabbing was more comfortable than the syringe method.

The researchers reported their findings Nov. 2 in the journal Heliyon. Herane-Vives is also starting a company called Trears to market the new method. In the future, he hopes that earwax could also be used to monitor other hormones. The researchers also need to follow up with studies of Asian individuals, who were left out of this pilot study because a significant number only produce dry, flaky earwax as opposed to wet, waxy earwax.

“After this successful pilot study, if our device holds up to further scrutiny in larger trials, we hope to transform diagnostics and care for millions of people with depression or cortisol-related conditions such as Addison’s disease and Cushing syndrome, and potentially numerous other conditions,” he said in a statement.

Originally published in Live Science.

Hydrocortisone in Granule Form Effectively Treats Childhood Adrenal Insufficiency

The treatment of adrenal insufficiency with hydrocortisone granules in children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) was associated with an absence of adrenal crises and normal growth patterns over a 2-year period, according to study findings published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The study included a total of 17 children with CAH and 1 child with hypopituitarism. All included participants were <6 years old who were receiving current adrenocortical replacement therapy, including hydrocortisone with or without fludrocortisone. Hydrocortisone medications used in this population were converted from pharmacy compounded capsules to hydrocortisone granules without changing the dose.

These study participants were followed by study investigators for 2 years. Glucocorticoid replacement therapy was given three times a day for a median treatment duration of 795 days. Treatment was adjusted by 3 monthly 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-OHP) profiles in children with CAH.

There were a 150 follow-up visits throughout the study. At each visit, participants underwent assessments that measured hydrocortisone dose, height, weight, pubertal status, adverse events, and incidence of adrenal crisis.

A total of 40 follow-up visits had changes in hydrocortisone doses based on salivary measurements (n=32) and serum 17-OHP levels (n=8).

At time of study entry, the median daily doses of hydrocortisone were 11.9 mg/m2 for children between the ages of 2 to 8 years, 9.9 mg/m2 for children between 1 month and 2 years, and 12.0 mg/m2 for children <28 days of age. At the end of the study, the respective doses for the 3 age groups were 10.2, 9.8, and 8.6.

The investigators observed no trends in either accelerated growth or reduced growth; however, 1 patient with congenital renal hypoplasia and CAH did show reduced growth. While 193 treatment-emergent adverse events, including pyrexia, gastroenteritis, and viral upper respiratory tract infection, were reported in 14 patients, there were no observed adrenal crises.

Limitations of this study included the small sample size as well as the relatively high drop-out rate of the initial sample.

The researchers concluded that “hydrocortisone granules are an effective treatment for childhood adrenal insufficiency providing the ability to accurately prescribe pediatric appropriate doses.”

Disclosure: Several study authors declared affiliations with the pharmaceutical industry. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures.

Reference

Neumann U, Braune K, Whitaker MJ, et al. A prospective study of children 0-7 years with CAH and adrenal insufficiency treated with hydrocortisone granules. Published online September 4, 2020. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. doi:10.1210/clinem/dgaa626

Muscle Weakness Persists in Cushing’s Syndrome Despite Remission

People with Cushing’s syndrome experience muscle weakness that persists even when the disorder is in remission, a new study shows.

The study, “Persisting muscle dysfunction in Cushing’s syndrome despite biochemical remission,” was published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Cushing’s syndrome is characterized by abnormally high levels of the hormone cortisol. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including muscle weakness. However, it’s unclear the extent to which treatment of the underlying syndrome affects muscle weakness in the long term.

In the new study, researchers analyzed data for 88 people with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome diagnosed between 2012 and 2018 who had undergone regular muscle function tests. The data were collected as part of the German Cushing’s Registry, and the assessed group was mostly female (78%), with an average age of 49.

Of note, not all individuals had data available for every time point assessed — for example, at four years of follow-up, data were available for only 22 of the people analyzed.

Of the 88 individuals assessed, 49 had Cushing’s disease (a form of Cushing’s syndrome driven by a tumor on the pituitary gland). All 88 underwent curative surgery. The median time between diagnosis and remission was two months.

The researchers measured muscle strength in two ways: by grip strength and the chair rising test.

On average, and after statistical adjustments for age and sex, grip strength at diagnosis was 83% (with 100% reflecting the average for people without Cushing’s syndrome). Six months after surgery, average grip strength had decreased to 71%. A year after surgery, average grip strength was 77%. At all time points measured, up to four years after surgery, grip strength was significantly lowered in people with Cushing’s syndrome.

The chair rising test (CRT) involves measuring how quickly a person can rise from a seated position. Generally, being able to do so more quickly indicates greater muscle strength. People with Cushing’s syndrome showed improvement in the CRT six months after treatment (median 7 seconds), compared to the beginning of the study (8 seconds).

However, no further improvement was observed at subsequent time points up to four years, and compared to controls, CRT remained abnormal over time (7 seconds in Cushing patients at three years of follow-up vs 5 seconds in controls).

“The main finding of our study is that muscle strength remains impaired even after years in remission,” the researchers wrote.

“Another interesting finding is that at 6 months follow-up grip strength and CRT performance show opposite effects. Whereas grip strength has worsened, CRT performance has improved,” they added.

The investigators speculated that this difference is probably due to changes in body weight. Cushing’s syndrome commonly results in weight gain, and treatment resulted in significant decreases in body mass index in the analyzed group. As such, it may have been easier for individuals to stand up because there was less mass for their muscles to move, not necessarily because their muscles were stronger.

“Why patients with CS in remission showed a temporary worsening in grip strength 6 months after surgery remains unclear in terms of pathophysiology,” the researchers wrote.

They speculated that this could be due to treatment with glucocorticoids, which may affect muscle strength, but added that, “Whether the necessity of a long-term glucocorticoid replacement influences muscle strength or myopathy [muscle disease] outcome remains controversial.”

The researchers also conducted statistical analyses to determine what patient factors were associated with poorer muscle function outcomes. They found statistically significant associations between poor muscle function and older age, higher waist-to-hip-ratio, and higher levels of HbA1c (a marker of metabolic disease like diabetes).

“Influencing factors for myopathy outcome are age, waist-to-hip-ratio and HbA1c, suggesting that a consistent and strict treatment of diabetic metabolic state during hypercortisolism [high cortisol levels] is mandatory,” the investigators wrote.

The study was limited by its small sample size, the researchers noted, particularly at longer follow-up times, and by the fact that only a few measurements of muscle strength were used. Additionally, since all the data were collected at one of three centers in Germany, the analyzed population may not be representative of the worldwide population of people with Cushing’s syndrome.

Adapted from https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2020/09/30/muscle-weakness-persists-in-cushings-syndrome-despite-remission-study-finds/

Corticotroph hyperplasia and Cushing disease: diagnostic features and surgical management

Affiliations expand

 

Abstract

Objective: This study was done to compare corticotroph hyperplasia and histopathologically proven adenomas in patients with Cushing disease by analyzing diagnostic features, surgical management, and clinical outcomes.

Methods: Patients with suspected pituitary Cushing disease were included in a retrospective cohort study and were excluded if results of pathological analysis of the surgical specimen were nondiagnostic or normal. Cases were reviewed by two experienced neuropathologists. Total lesion removal was used as a dichotomized surgical variable; it was defined as an extracapsular resection (including a rim of normal gland) in patients with an adenoma, and for hyperplasia patients it was defined as removal of the presumed lesion plus a rim of surrounding normal gland. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were performed. Recurrence-free survival was compared between the two groups.

Results: The final cohort consisted of 63 patients (15 with hyperplasia and 48 with adenoma). Normal pituitary acinar architecture was highly variable. Corticotroph hyperplasia was diagnosed based on the presence of expanded acini showing retained reticulin architecture and predominant staining for adrenocorticotropic hormone. Crooke’s hyaline change was seen in 46.7% of specimens, and its frequency was equal in nonlesional tissue of both groups. The two groups differed only by MRI findings (equivocal/diffuse lesion in 46% of hyperplasia and 17% of adenoma; p = 0.03). Diagnostic uncertainty in the hyperplasia group resulted in additional confirmatory testing by 24-hour urinary free cortisol. Total lesion removal was infrequent in patients with hyperplasia compared to those with adenoma (33% vs 65%; p = 0.03). Initial biochemical remission was similar (67% in hyperplasia and 85% in adenoma; p = 0.11). There was no difference in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis recovery or disease recurrence. The median follow-up was 1.9 years (IQR 0.7-7.6 years) for the hyperplasia group and 1.2 years (IQR 0.4-2.4 years) for the adenoma group. Lack of a discrete lesion and diagnostic uncertainty were the only significant predictors of hyperplasia (sensitivity 53.3%, specificity 97.7%, positive predictive value 88.9%, negative predictive value 85.7%). An adjusted Cox proportional hazards model showed similar recurrence-free survival in the two groups.

Conclusions: This study suggests an association between biochemically proven Cushing disease and histopathologically proven corticotroph hyperplasia. Imaging and operative findings can be ambiguous, and, compared to typical adenomas with a pseudocapsule, the surgical approach is more nuanced. Nevertheless, if treated appropriately, biochemical outcomes may be similar.

Keywords: ACTH = adrenocorticotropic hormone; CRH = corticotropin-releasing hormone; Cushing disease; HPA = hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal; HR = hazard ratio; IPSS = inferior petrosal sinus sampling; ROC = receiver operating characteristic; UFC = urinary free cortisol; corticotroph adenoma; corticotroph hyperplasia; diagnosis; pathology; pituitary surgery; surgical outcomes.

From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32886921/

No Increased COVID-19 Risk With Adequately Treated Adrenal Insufficiency

COVID-19

Adults with adrenal insufficiency who are adequately treated and trained display the same incidence of COVID-19-suggestive symptoms and disease severity as controls, according to a presenter.

“Adrenal insufficiency is supposed to be associated with an increased risk for infections and complications,” Giulia Carosi, a doctoral student in the department of experimental medicine at Sapienza University of Rome, said during a presentation at the virtual European Congress of Endocrinology Annual Meeting. “Our aim was to evaluate the incidence of COVID symptoms and related complications in this group.”

In a retrospective, case-control study, Carosi and colleagues evaluated the incidence of COVID-19 symptoms and complications among 279 adults with primary or secondary adrenal insufficiency (mean age, 57 years; 49.8% women) and 112 adults with benign pituitary nonfunctioning lesions without hormonal alterations, who served as controls (mean age, 58 years; 52.7% women). All participants lived in the Lombardy region of northern Italy. Participants completed a standardized questionnaire by phone on COVID-19-suggestive symptoms, such as fever, cough, myalgia, fatigue, dyspnea, gastrointestinal symptoms, conjunctivitis, loss of smell, loss of taste, upper respiratory tract symptoms, thoracic pain, headaches and ear pain. Patients with primary or secondary adrenal insufficiency were previously trained to modify their glucocorticoid replacement therapy when appropriate.

From February through April, the prevalence of participants reporting at least one symptom of viral infection was similar between the adrenal insufficiency group and controls (24% vs. 22.3%; P = .788).

Researchers observed “highly suggestive” symptoms among 12.5% of participants in both groups.

No participant required hospitalization and no adrenal crisis was reported. Replacement therapy was correctly increased for about 30% of symptomatic participants with adrenal insufficiency.

Carosi noted that few nasopharyngeal swabs were performed (n = 12), limiting conclusions on the exact infection rate (positive result in 0.7% among participants with adrenal insufficiency and 0% of controls; P = .515).

“We can conclude that hypoadrenal patients who have regular follow-up and trained about risks for infection and sick day rules seem to present the same incidence of COVID-19 symptoms and the same disease severity as controls,” Carosi said.

As Healio previously reported, there is no evidence that COVID-19 has a more severe course among individuals with primary and secondary adrenal insufficiency; however, those with adrenal insufficiency are at increased risk for respiratory and viral infections, and patients experiencing major inflammation and fever are at risk for life-threatening adrenal crisis. In a position statement issued by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in March, researchers wrote that people with adrenal insufficiency or uncontrolled Cushing’s syndrome should continue to take their medications as prescribed and ensure they have appropriate supplies for oral and injectable steroids at home, with a 90-day preparation recommended. In the event of acute illness, those with adrenal insufficiency are instructed to increase their hydrocortisone dose per instructions and call their health care provider for more details. Standard “sick day” rules for increasing oral glucocorticoids or injectables would also apply, according to the statement.

From https://www.healio.com/news/endocrinology/20200910/no-increased-covid19-risk-with-adequately-treated-adrenal-insufficiency

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