Hypopituitarism and COVID-19 – exploring a possible bidirectional relationship?

As of September 1, 2021, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is the virus responsible for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), has infected over 219 million and caused the deaths of over 4.5 million worldwide. Although COVID-19 has been traditionally associated with its ability to cause varied symptoms resembling acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), emerging scientific evidence has demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 causes much more damage beyond its effects on the upper respiratory tract.

To this end, in a recent study published in Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders, the researchers discuss the extra-pulmonary manifestations of COVID-19.

Risk factors for severe COVID-19

It is now a well-known fact that the likelihood of people falling severely ill or dying from COVID-19 is increases if these individuals are obese, or have certain comorbidities like diabetes mellitus (DM), vitamin D deficiency, and vertebral fractures (VFs).

Any abnormality in the pituitary gland may lead to metabolic disorders, impaired immunity, and a host of other conditions that also make the body susceptible to infections. Since such conditions are common in patients with COVID-19 as well, it has been hypothesized that there might be a relationship between COVID-19 and pituitary gland disorders.

On the other hand, researchers have also observed that COVID-19 causes increased severity of pituitary-related disorders, and even pituitary apoplexy, which is a condition defined as internal bleeding or impaired blood supply in the pituitary gland. A group of Italian researchers has reviewed this bidirectional relationship between the pituitary gland abnormalities and COVID-19 in their study recently published in Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders.

The link between pituitary gland abnormalities and COVID19

The pituitary gland releases hormones that regulate and control some of the most important functions of the body like growth, metabolism, energy levels, bone health, mood swings, vision, reproduction, and immunity, to name a few. The inability of the pituitary gland to release one or more of these hormones is known as ‘hypopituitarism.’  Factors responsible for hypopituitarism include traumatic brain injury, pituitary adenomas (tumors), genetic mutations, as well as infiltrative and infectious diseases.

Hypopituitarism can lead to severe cases of DM, growth hormone deficiency (GHD), abnormal lipid profile, obesity, arterial hypertension, and immune dysfunctions. Interestingly, similar consequences of COVID-19 have also been reported.

SARS-CoV-2 infects the human body by binding to a special class of receptors known as the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors. These receptors are located in the endothelial linings of most organs like the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, intestine, liver, and pancreas, among others. The main function of the ACE2 receptors is binding to specific target molecules to maintain the renin-angiotensin system that is crucial for regulating dilation of blood vessels, as well as maintain blood glucose levels, the immune system, and homeostasis.

Therefore, SARS-CoV-2 binding to these ACE2 receptors facilitates the entry of this virus into all the organs that have these receptors, thus leading to the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to cause widespread damage in the body. Upon entry into the pancreas, for example, SARS-CoV-2 can inhibit ß-cells function, which worsens hyperglycemia and increases the risk for acute diabetic complications.

Similarly, the presence of ACE2 receptors in brain tissues may cause invasion into the pituitary gland and lead to pituitary apoplexy. The entry of SARS-CoV-2 into the brain can also cause neurological damage in infected patients, which may account for some of the common neurological complaints of COVID-19 including headaches, confusion, dysgeusia, anosmia, nausea, and vomiting.

Study findings

Hypopituitarism leading to metabolic syndrome has been scientifically linked to higher mortality in COVID-19 patients. In fact, the presence of a single metabolic syndrome component has been observed to double the risk of death by COVID-19. This risk was even higher among patients with DM and hypertension.

There was also an increased incidence of VFs in COVID-19 patients with hypopituitarism. Hence, patients with DM, obesity, hypertension, and chronic inflammatory disease, are all at an increased risk of poor outcomes and death in COVID-19.

Arterial hypertension is a common finding in adults with GHD, which is another consequence of hypopituitarism. Hypopituitarism also causes adrenal insufficiency, a condition that is primarily managed with glucocorticoids and hormonal replacement therapies.

Notably, patients with COVID-19 are often treated for prolonged periods with high-dose exogenous glucocorticoids, which is a class of steroids that suppress some activities of the immune system. This treatment approach may result in suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary–adrenal axis that can lead to adrenal insufficiency.

Hypogonadism is another aspect of pituitary insufficiency that predisposes patients, especially males, to COVID-19. Evidence shows that males with hypogonadism were more frequently affected by metabolic syndrome.

Pituitary apoplexy, albeit rare, has also been linked to COVID-19, especially in patients with pituitary adenomas and those who are being treated with anticoagulant therapy. This may be because the pituitary gland becomes overstimulated during an infectious disease, which may increase pituitary blood demand and lead to sudden infarction precipitating acute apoplexy.

This phenomenon has also been shown in patients suffering from infectious diseases that cause hemorrhagic fevers. Taken together, pituitary apoplexy complicates treatment and management procedures in COVID-19 patients.

Despite the use of steroids in COVID-19 patients, there have been no contraindications for vaccination in such patients. However, those on extensive hormonal therapies need constant monitoring for best results.

Implications

The pituitary gland acts like a double-edged sword for COVID-19. On one end, hypopituitarism predisposes patients to metabolic disorders like DM, obesity, and VFs, all of which are known risk factors for COVID-19.

On the other hand, COVID-19 may cause direct or indirect damage to the pituitary glands by entering the brain and inducing unfavorable vascular events – though evidence on this remains lesser in comparison to that of hypopituitarism. Ultimately, the researchers of the current study conclude that managing patients with hormonal insufficiencies optimally with steroids is likely to improve outcomes in severe COVID-19.

Journal reference:

Primary Adrenal Insufficiency Due to Bilateral Adrenal Infarction in COVID-19

This article was originally published here

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2021 Jul 29:dgab557. doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgab557. Online ahead of print.

ABSTRACT

CONTEXT: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a proinflammatory and prothrombotic condition, but its impact on adrenal function has not been adequately evaluated.

CASE REPORT: A 46-year-old woman presented with abdominal pain, hypotension, and skin hyperpigmentation after COVID-19 infection. The patient had hyponatremia, serum cortisol <1.0 µg/dL, adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) of 807 pg/mL, and aldosterone ❤ ng/dL. Computed tomography (CT) findings of adrenal enlargement with no parenchymal and minimal peripheral capsular enhancement after contrast were consistent with bilateral adrenal infarction. The patient had autoimmune hepatitis and positive antiphospholipid antibodies, but no previous thrombotic events. The patient was treated with intravenous hydrocortisone, followed by oral hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone.

DISCUSSION: We identified 9 articles, including case reports, of new-onset adrenal insufficiency and/or adrenal hemorrhage/infarction on CT in COVID-19. Adrenal insufficiency was hormonally diagnosed in 5 cases, but ACTH levels were measured in only 3 cases (high in 1 case and normal/low in other 2 cases). Bilateral adrenal nonhemorrhagic or hemorrhagic infarction was identified in 5 reports (2 had adrenal insufficiency, 2 had normal cortisol levels, and 1 case had no data). Interestingly, the only case with well-characterized new-onset acute primary adrenal insufficiency after COVID-19 had a previous diagnosis of antiphospholipid syndrome. In our case, antiphospholipid syndrome diagnosis was established only after the adrenal infarction triggered by COVID-19.

CONCLUSION: Our findings support the association between bilateral adrenal infarction and antiphospholipid syndrome triggered by COVID-19. Therefore, patients with positive antiphospholipid antibodies should be closely monitored for symptoms or signs of acute adrenal insufficiency during COVID-19.

PMID:34463766 | DOI:10.1210/clinem/dgab557

ENDO 2021 Roundup: COVID-19 Risk With Adrenal Insufficiency, Cushing’s Death Risk, Jatenzo Liver Data, and More

Some of the latest research advancements in the field of endocrinology presented at the Endocrine Society’s virtual ENDO 2021 meeting included quantifying diabetic ketoacidosis readmission rateshyperglycemia as a severe COVID-19 predictor, and semaglutide as a weight loss therapy. Below are a few more research highlights:

More Safety Data on Jatenzo

In a study of 81 men with hypogonadism — defined as a serum testosterone level below 300 ng/dL — oral testosterone replacement therapy (Jatenzo) was both safe and effective in a manufacturer-sponsored study.

After 24 months of oral therapy, testosterone concentration increased from an average baseline of 208.3 ng/dL to 470.1 ng/dL, with 84% of patients achieving a number in the eugonadal range.

And importantly, the treatment also demonstrated liver safety, as there were no significant changes in liver function tests throughout the 2-year study — including alanine aminotransferase (28.0 ± 12.3 to 26.6 ± 12.8 U/L), aspartate transaminase (21.8 ± 6.8 to 22.0 ± 8.2 U/L), and bilirubin levels (0.58 ± 0.22 to 0.52 ± 0.19 mg/dL).

Throughout the trial, only one participant had elevation of liver function tests.

“Our study finds testosterone undecanoate is an effective oral therapy for men with low testosterone levels and has a safety profile consistent with other approved testosterone products, without the drawbacks of non-oral modes of administration,” said lead study author Ronald Swerdloff, MD, of the Lundquist Research Institute in Torrance, California, in a statement.

In addition, for many men with hypogonadism, “an oral option is preferred to avoid issues associated with other modes of administration, such as injection site pain or transference to partners and children,” he said. “Before [testosterone undecanoate] was approved, the only orally approved testosterone supplemental therapy in the United States was methyltestosterone, which was known to be associated with significant chemical-driven liver damage.”

Oral testosterone undecanoate received FDA approval in March 2019 following a rocky review history.

COVID-19 Risk With Adrenal Insufficiency

Alarming new data suggested that children with adrenal insufficiency were more than 23 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than kids without this condition (relative risk 23.68, P<0.0001). This equated to 11 deaths out of 1,328 children with adrenal insufficiency compared with 215 deaths out of 609,788 children without this condition (0.828% vs 0.035%).

These young patients with adrenal insufficiency also saw a much higher rate of sepsis (RR 21.68, P<0.0001) and endotracheal intubation with COVID-19 infection (RR 25.45, P<0.00001).

Data for the analysis were drawn from the international TriNetX database, which included patient records of children ages 18 and younger diagnosed with COVID-19 from 60 healthcare organizations in 31 different countries.

“It’s really important that you take your hydrocortisone medications and start stress dosing as soon as you’re sick,” study author Manish Raisingani, MD, of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s in Little Rock, explained during a press conference. “This will help prevent significant complications due to COVID-19 or any other infections. A lot of the complications that we see in kids with adrenal insufficiency are due to inadequate stress dosing of steroids.”

And with kids starting to return back to in-person schooling, “parents should also be reeducated about using the emergency injections of hydrocortisone,” Raisingani added. He noted that the COVID-19 complication rates were likely so high in this patient population because many had secondary adrenal insufficiency due to being on long-term, chronic steroids. Many also had comorbid respiratory illnesses, as well.

Cushing’s Death Risk

In a systematic review and meta-analysis of 87 studies — including data on 17,276 patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome — researchers found that these patients face a much higher death rate than those without this condition.

Overall, patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome faced a nearly three times higher mortality ratio (standardized mortality ratio 2.91, 95% CI 2.41-3.68, I2=40.3%), with those with Cushing’s disease found to have an even higher mortality risk (SMR 3.27, 95% CI 2.33-4.21, I2=55.6%).

And those with adrenal Cushing’s syndrome also saw an elevated death risk, although not as high as patients with the disease (SMR 1.62, 95% CI 0.08-3.16, I2=0.0%).

The most common causes of mortality among these patients included cardiac conditions (25%), infection (14%), and cerebrovascular disease (9%).

“The causes of death highlight the need for aggressive management of cardiovascular risk, prevention of thromboembolism, and good infection control, and emphasize the need to achieve disease remission, normalizing cortisol levels,” said lead study author Padiporn Limumpornpetch, MD, of the University of Leeds in England, in a statement.

From https://www.medpagetoday.com/meetingcoverage/endo/91808

Estrogen receptor α plays an important role in Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy

Abstract

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) during pregnancy is very rare with a few cases reported in the literature.

Of great interest, some cases of CS during pregnancy spontaneously resolve after delivery. Most studies suggest that aberrant luteinizing hormone (LH)/human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) receptor (LHCGR) seems to play a critical role in the pathogenesis of CS during pregnancy.

However, not all women during pregnancy are observed cortisol hypersecretion. Moreover, some cases of adrenal tumors or macronodular hyperplasia with LHCGR expressed, have no response to hCG or LH.

Therefore, alternative pathogenic mechanisms are indicated. It has been recently reported that estrogen binding to estrogen receptor α (ERα) could enhance the adrenocortical adenocarcinoma (ACC) cell proliferation.

Herein, we hypothesize that ERα is probably involved in CS development during pregnancy.

Better understanding of the possible mechanism of ERα on cortisol production and adrenocortical tumorigenesis will contribute to the diagnosis and treatment of CS during pregnancy.

Read the entire article here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987720303893?via%3Dihub

Steroids! Scientists Hail Dexamethasone as ‘Major Breakthrough’ in Treating Coronavirus

 

Dexamethasone, a cheap and widely used steroid, has become the first drug shown to be able to save lives among Covid-19 patients in what scientists hailed as a “major breakthrough”.

Results of trials announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, which is used to reduce inflammation in other diseases, reduced death rates by around a third among the most severely ill Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital.

The results suggest the drug should immediately become standard care in patients with severe cases of the pandemic disease, said the researchers who led the trials.

“This is a result that shows that if patients who have Covid-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost,” said Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor co-leading the trial, known as the RECOVERY trial.

“It’s going to be very hard for any drug really to replace this, given that for less than 50 pounds ($63.26), you can treat eight patients and save a life,” he told reporters in an online briefing.

His co-lead investigator, Peter Horby, said dexamethasone was “the only drug that’s so far shown to reduce mortality – and it reduces it significantly.”

“It is a major breakthrough,” he said. “Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”

There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus which has killed more than 431,000 globally.

Saving ‘countless lives’

The RECOVERY trial compared outcomes of around 2,100 patients who were randomly assigned to get the steroid, with those of around 4,300 patients who did not get it.

The results suggest that one death would be prevented by treatment with dexamethasone among every eight ventilated Covid-19 patients, Landray said, and one death would be prevented among every 25 Covid-19 patients that received the drug and are on oxygen.

Among patients with Covid-19 who did not require respiratory support, there was no benefit from treatment with dexamethasone.

“The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients,” Horby said.

Nick Cammack, a expert on Covid-19 at the Wellcome Trust global health charity, said the findings would “transform the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on lives and economies across the world”.

“Countless lives will be saved globally,” he said in a statement responding to the results.

The RECOVERY trial was launched in April as a randomised clinical trial to test a range of potential treatments for Covid-19, including low-dose dexamethasone and the malaria drug hydoxycholoroquine.

The hydroxychloroquine arm was halted earlier this month after Horby and Landray said results showed it was “useless” at treating Covid-19 patients.

Global cases of infection with the novel coronavirus have reached over 8 million, according to a Reuters tally, and more than 434,000 people have died after contracting the virus, the first case if which was reported in China in early January.

From https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/16/steroid-dexamethasone-reduces-deaths-from-severe-covid-19-trial.html

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