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

Bruising easily and gaining weight? Don’t mistake high blood pressure for this syndrome

By Olivia Lerche June 30th, 2017

Cushing’s sydnrome [sic]: Condition can have the same symptoms as high blood pressure

The condition is a hormonal disorder caused by prolonged exposure to the hormone cortisol – which can be caused by taking steroids. Cortisol regulates metabolism and immune response in the body.

Other people develop Cushing’s syndrome because their bodies produce too much cortisol.

It is most common in adults aged between 20 and 50 although women are almost three time [sic] as likely to be diagnosed.

While the condition is rare and only affects around one in every 50,000 people – the syndrome can affect people with type 2 diabetes, obese and have poorly controlled blood sugar levels.

The condition is also more common in people with high blood pressure.

Cushing’s syndrome – also called hypercortisolism – can cause a number of symptoms.These can include:
Weight gain
Thinning skin which can bruise easily
Reddish-purple stretch marks on the arms, legs, breasts, thighs, stomach and buttocks
It can also cause the face to become rounder – causing fat to deposit on the face
Muscle or bone weakness is also a sign of the condition
A loss of libido – decreased interest in sex – is also a symptom

Cushing's sydnrome: Condition can have the same symptoms as high blood pressureGETTY

Cushing’s sydnrome [sic]: Condition has similar symptoms as high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome

However, other symptoms can include excess hair on the face, irregular periods, severe fatigue, high blood pressure, high blood sugar irritability or depression and even a fatty deposit between the shoulders.The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases said: “Metabolic syndrome – a combination of problems that includes excess weight around the waist, high blood pressure, abnormal levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and insulin resistance-also mimics the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.”Cushing’s syndrome often develops as a side effect of treatment with corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids are widely used to reduce inflammation and treat autoimmune conditions  – where the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissue – such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and lupus.

Cushing's sydnrome: Condition can have the same symptoms as high blood pressureGETTY

Cushing’s sydnrome [sic]: Condition can have the same symptoms as high blood pressure

Metabolic syndrome also mimics the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome

However, the condition can be hard to diagnose because of the similarity to high blood pressure.To diagnose the disease, patients will usually need to have a saliva test, urine test and blood test to measure cortisol levels in the body.To treat the condition, patients will usually have to decrease the levels of steroids they are taking.

However, there are complications if the condition is left untreated.

It can lead to high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Cushing’s Syndrome: A Tale of Frequent Misdiagnosis


What is it?

Cushing’s syndrome is a condition you probably have never heard of, but for those who have it, the symptoms can be quite scary.  Worse still, getting it diagnosed can take a while.  Cushing’s syndrome occurs when the tissues of the body are exposed to high levels of cortisol for an extended amount of time. Cortisol is the hormone the body produces to help you in times of stress. It is good to have cortisol at normal levels, but when those levels get too high it causes health problems.  Although cortisol is related to stress, there is no evidence that Cushing’s syndrome is directly or indirectly caused by stress.

Cushing’s syndrome is considered rare, but that may be because it is under-reported. As a result, we don’t have good estimates for how many people have it, which is why the estimates for the actual number of cases vary so much–from 5 to 28 million people.[1] The most common age group that Cushing’s affects are those 20 to 50 years old.  It is thought that obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure may increase your risk of developing this syndrome.[2]

What causes Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome is caused by high cortisol levels. Cushing’s disease is a specific form of Cushing’s syndrome. People with Cushing’s disease have high levels of cortisol because they have a non-cancerous (benign) tumor in the pituitary gland.  The tumor releases adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), which causes the adrenal glands to produce excessive cortisol.

Cushing’s syndrome that is not Cushing’s disease can be also caused by high cortisol levels that result from tumors in other parts of the body.  One of the causes is “ectopic ACTH syndrome.” This means that the hormone-releasing tumor is growing in an abnormal place, such as the lungs or elsewhere.  The tumors can be benign, but most frequently they are cancerous. Other causes of Cushing’s syndrome are benign tumors on the adrenal gland (adrenal adenomas) and less commonly, cancerous adrenal tumors (adrenocortical carcinomas). Both secrete cortisol, causing cortisol levels to get too high.

In some cases, a person can develop Cushing’s syndrome from taking steroid medications, such as prednisone. These drugs, known as corticosteroids, mimic the cortisol produced by the body. People who have Cushing’s syndrome from steroid medications do not develop a tumor.[3]

What are the signs and symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome?

The appearance of people with Cushing’s syndrome starts to change as cortisol levels build up. Regardless of what kind of tumor they have or where the tumor is located, people tend to put on weight in the upper body and abdomen, with their arms and legs remaining thin; their face grows rounder (“moon face”); they develop fat around the neck; and purple or pink stretch marks appear on the abdomen, thighs, buttocks or arms. Individuals with the syndrome usually experience one or more of the following symptoms: fatigue, muscle weakness, high glucose levels, anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. Women are more likely than men to develop Cushing’s syndrome, and when they do they may have excess hair growth, irregular or absent periods, and decreased fertility.[4]

Why is Cushing’s Syndrome so frequently misdiagnosed?

These symptoms seem distinctive, yet it is often difficult for those with Cushing’s syndrome to get an accurate diagnosis.  Why?  While Cushing’s is relatively rare, the signs and symptoms are common to many other diseases. For instance, females with excess hair growth, irregular or absent periods, decreased fertility, and high glucose levels could have polycystic ovarian syndrome, a disease that affects many more women than Cushing’s.   Also, people with metabolism problems (metabolic syndrome), who are at higher than average risk for diabetes and heart disease, also tend to have abdominal fat, high glucose levels and high blood pressure.[5]

Problems in testing for Cushing’s

When Cushing’s syndrome is suspected, a test is given to measure cortisol in the urine. This test measures the amount of free or unbound cortisol filtered by the kidneys and then released over a 24 hour period through the urine. Since the amount of urinary free cortisol (UFC) can vary a lot from one test to another—even in people who don’t have Cushing’s—experts recommend that the test be repeated 3 times. A diagnosis of Cushing’s is given when a person’s UFC level is 4 times the upper limit of normal.  One study found this test to be highly accurate, with a sensitivity of 95% (meaning that 95% of people who have the disease will be correctly diagnosed by this test) and a specificity of 98% (meaning that 98% of  people who do not have the disease will have a test score confirming that).[6] However, a more recent study estimated the sensitivity as only between 45%-71%, but with 100% specificity.[7]  This means that the test is very accurate at telling people who don’t have Cushing’s that they don’t have it, but not so good at identifying the people who really do have Cushing’s.  The authors that have analyzed these studies advise that patients use the UFC test together with other tests to confirm the diagnosis, but not as the initial screening test.[8]  

Other common tests that may be used to diagnose Cushing’s syndrome are: 1) the midnight plasma cortisol and late-night salivary cortisol measurements, and 2) the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test (LDDST).  The first test measures the amount of cortisol levels in the blood and saliva at night.  For most people, their cortisol levels drop at night, but people with Cushing’s syndrome have cortisol levels that remain high all night. In the LDDST, dexamethasone is given to stop the production of ACTH.  Since ACTH produces cortisol, people who don’t have Cushing’s syndrome will get lower cortisol levels in the blood and urine. If after giving dexamethasone, the person’s cortisol levels remain high, then they are diagnosed with Cushing’s.[9]

Even when these tests, alone or in combination, are used to diagnose Cushing’s, they don’t explain the cause. They also don’t distinguish between Cushing’s syndrome, and something called pseudo-Cushing state.

Pseudo-Cushing state

Some people have an abnormal amount of cortisol that is caused by something unrelated to Cushing’s syndrome such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, depression, pregnancy, and obesity. This is called pseudo-Cushing state.  Their high levels of cortisol and resulting Cushing-like symptoms can be reversed by treating whatever disease is causing the abnormal cortisol levels. In their study, Dr. Giacomo Tirabassi and colleagues recommend using the desmopressin (DDAVP) test to differentiate between pseudo-Cushing state and Cushing’s.  The DDAVP test is especially helpful in people who, after being given dexamethasone to stop cortisol production, continue to have moderate levels of urinary free cortisol (UFC) and midnight serum cortisol.[10]

An additional test that is often used to determine if one has pseudo-Cushing state or Cushing’s syndrome is the dexamethasone-corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) test. Patients are injected with a hormone that causes cortisol to be produced while also being given another hormone to stop cortisol from being produced. This combination of hormones should make the patient have low cortisol levels, and this is what happens in people with pseudo-Cushing state.  People with Cushing’s syndrome, however, will still have high levels of cortisol after being given this combination of hormones.[11]

How can Cushing’s be treated?

Perhaps because Cushing’s is rare or under-diagnosed, few treatments are available. There are several medications that are typically the first line of treatment.  None of the medications can cure  Cushing’s, so they are usually taken until other treatments are given to cure Cushing’s, and only after that if the other treatment fails.

The most common treatment for Cushing’s disease is transsphenoidal surgery, which requires the surgeon to reach the pituitary gland through the nostril or upper lip and remove the tumor.  Radiation may also be used instead of surgery to shrink the tumor.  In patients whose Cushing’s is caused by ectopic ACTH syndrome, all cancerous cells need to be wiped out through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a variety of other methods, depending on the location of the tumor. Surgery is also recommended for adrenal tumors.  If Cushing’s syndrome is being caused by corticosteroid (steroid medications) usage, the treatment is to stop or lower your dosage.[12]

Medications to control Cushing’s (before treatment or if treatment fails)

According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, almost no new treatment options have been introduced in the last decade. Researchers and doctors have focused most of their efforts on improving existing treatments aimed at curing Cushing’s. Unfortunately, medications used to control Cushing’s prior to treatment and when treatment fails are not very effective.

Many of the medications approved by the FDA for Cushing’s syndrome and Cushing’s disease, such as pasireotide, metyrapone, and mitotane, have not been extensively studied.  The research presented to the FDA by the makers of these three drugs did not even make clear what an optimal dose was.[13] In another 2014 study, published in Clinical Epidemiology, researchers examined these three same drugs, along with ten others, and found that only pasireotide had moderate evidence to support its approval.  The other drugs, many of which are not FDA approved for Cushing’s patients, had little or no available evidence to show that they work.[14] They can be sold, however, because the FDA has approved them for other diseases.  Unfortunately, that means that neither the FDA nor anyone else has proven the drugs are safe or effective for Cushing patients.

Pasireotide, the one medication with moderate evidence supporting its approval, caused hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) in 75% of patients who participated in the main study for the medication’s approval for Cushing’s.  As a result of developing hyperglycemia, almost half (46%) of the participants had to go on blood-sugar lowering medications. The drug was approved by the FDA for Cushing’s anyway because of the lack of other effective treatments.

Other treatments used for Cushing’s have other risks.  Ketoconazole, believed to be the most commonly prescribed medications for Cushing’s syndrome, has a black box warning due to its effect on the liver that can lead to a liver transplant or death.  Other side effects include: headache, nausea, irregular periods, impotence, and decreased libido. Metyrapone can cause acne, hirsutism, and hypertension. Mitotane can cause neurological and gastrointestinal symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and diarrhea and can cause an abortion in pregnant women.[15]

So, what should you do if you suspect you have Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome is a serious disease that needs to be treated, but there are treatment options available for you if you are diagnosed with the disease. If the symptoms in this article sound familiar, it’s time for you to go see your doctor. Make an appointment with your general practitioner, and explain your symptoms to him or her.  You will most likely be referred to an endocrinologist, who will be able to better understand your symptoms and recommend an appropriate course of action.

 

All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

  1. Nieman, Lynette K. Epidemiology and clinical manifestations of Cushing’s syndrome, 2014. UpToDate: Wolters Kluwer Health
  2. Cushing’s syndrome/ disease, 2013. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Cushings%20Disease.aspx
  3. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  4. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  5. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  6. Newell-Price, John, Peter Trainer, Michael Besser and Ashley Grossman. The diagnosis and differential diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome and pseudo-Cushing’s states, 1998. Endocrine Reviews: Endocrine Society
  7. Carroll, TB and JW Findling. The diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome, 2010. Reviews in Endocrinology and Metabolic Disorders: Springer
  8. Ifedayo, AO and AF Olufemi. Urinary free cortisol in the diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome: How useful?, 2013. Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice: Medknow.
  9. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  10. Tirabassi, Giacomo, Emanuela Faloia, Roberta Papa, Giorgio Furlani, Marco Boscaro, and Giorgio Arnaldi. Use of the Desmopressin test in the differential diagnosis of pseudo-Cushing state from Cushing’s disease, 2013. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: Endocrine Society.
  11. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  12. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  13. Tirabassi, Giacomo, Emanuela Faloia, Roberta Papa, Giorgio Furlani, Marco Boscaro, and Giorgio Arnaldi. Use of the Desmopressin test in the differential diagnosis of pseudo-Cushing state from Cushing’s disease, 2013. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: Endocrine Society.
  14. Galdelha, Monica R. and Leonardo Vieira Neto. Efficacy of medical treatment in Cushing’s disease: a systematic review, 2014. Clinical Endocrinology: John Wiley & Sons.
  15. Adler, Gail. Cushing syndrome treatment & management, 2014. MedScape: WebMD.

Adapted from https://www.center4research.org/cushings-syndrome-frequent-misdiagnosis/

Study links genetic mutations, Cushing syndrome

Researchers have determined mutations in the gene CABLES1 may lead to Cushing syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body overproduces the stress hormone cortisol.

The National Institutes of Health study findings published in Endocrine-Related Cancer found four of the 181 children and adult patient examined had mutant forms of CABLES1 that do not respond to cortisol.

The determination proved significant because normal functioning CABLES1 protein, expressed by the CABLES1 gene, slows the division and growth of pituitary cells that produce the hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH).

Researchers at the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) joined scientists from other institutions in the United States, France and Canada, in the evaluation.

“The mutations we identified impair the tumor suppressor function in the pituitary gland,” Constantine A. Stratakis, the study’s senior author and director of the NICHD Division of Intramural Research, said. “This discovery could lead to the development of treatment strategies that simulate the function of the CABLES1 protein and prevent recurrence of pituitary tumors in people with Cushing syndrome.”

Cushing syndrome symptoms include obesity, muscle weakness, fatigue, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, depression and anxiety, officials said, adding excess cortisol found in the disorder can result from certain steroid medications or from tumors of the pituitary or adrenal glands.

Researchers maintain that more studies are needed to fully understand how CABLES1 suppresses tumor formation in the pituitary gland.

 

From https://lifesciencedaily.com/stories/21624-study-links-genetic-mutations-cushing-syndrome/

Cortisol: Chronic Stress Increases the Risk of Early Puberty

Scientists are trying to understand how childhood adversity affects puberty, but linking the two is difficult. Hair cortisol concentration (HCC) is a potentially useful biological marker of chronic stress. However, previous studies were unable to link childhood adversity to puberty in boys.

Research published in JAMA Pediatrics by Ying Sun and colleagues examined HCC and pubertal development in 1263 elementary school-aged children (age range 6.4 – 9.9 years) in China. Cortisol was extracted from hair samples and measured using a commercially available cortisol test kit.

For girls, breast development was assessed by the same pediatric endocrinologist using Breast Tanner stages, a scale of physical development. For boys, a Prader orchidometer was used to estimate testicular volume. The study found no difference in cortisol levels between boys and girls. Early breast development was significantly higher for girls with the HCC levels in the third and fourth quartile compared to those with lower HCC levels. Overall, the investigators found a 2.5-fold increase in the risk of early breast development in girls in the highest quartile of HCC compared to those in the lowest quartile.

Similarly, testicular volume in boys was significantly correlated (p< .001) with HCC, those with higher levels of HCC had larger mean testicular volumes. A 0.12-milliliter increase in testicular volume was observed with each quartile increase in HCC in boys.

This is the first study to measure the cortisol level in hair of children in relation to puberty. Scientists hope that additional studies will help us better understand the timing of puberty and how chronic stress increases the risk of early puberty.

Written By: Cindi A. Hoover, Ph.D.

From https://www.medicalnewsbulletin.com/chronic-stress-increases-risk-early-puberty/

%d bloggers like this: