COVID-19 and Cushing’s Syndrome: Recommendations For A Special Population With Endogenous Glucocorticoid Excess

https://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-8587(20)30215-1

Over the past few months, COVID-19, the pandemic disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, has been associated with a high rate of infection and lethality, especially in patients with comorbidities such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and immunodeficiency syndromes.1

These cardiometabolic and immune impairments are common comorbidities of Cushing’s syndrome, a condition characterised by excessive exposure to endogenous glucocorticoids. In patients with Cushing’s syndrome, the increased cardiovascular risk factors, amplified by the increased thromboembolic risk, and the increased susceptibility to severe infections, are the two leading causes of death.2

In healthy individuals in the early phase of infection, at the physiological level, glucocorticoids exert immunoenhancing effects, priming danger sensor and cytokine receptor expression, thereby sensitising the immune system to external agents.3 However, over time and with sustained high concentrations, the principal effects of glucocorticoids are to produce profound immunosuppression, with depression of innate and adaptive immune responses. Therefore, chronic excessive glucocorticoids might hamper the initial response to external agents and the consequent activation of adaptive responses. Subsequently, a decrease in the number of B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes, as well as a reduction in T-helper cell activation might favour opportunistic and intracellular infection. As a result, an increased risk of infection is seen, with an estimated prevalence of 21–51% in patients with Cushing’s syndrome.4 Therefore, despite the absence of data on the effects of COVID-19 in patients with Cushing’s syndrome, one can make observations related to the compromised immune state in patients with Cushing’s syndrome and provide expert advice for patients with a current or past history of Cushing’s syndrome.

Fever is one of the hallmarks of severe infections and is present in up to around 90% of patients with COVID-19, in addition to cough and dyspnoea.1 However, in active Cushing’s syndrome, the low-grade chronic inflammation and the poor immune response might limit febrile response in the early phase of infection.2 Conversely, different symptoms might be enhanced in patients with Cushing’s syndrome; for instance, dyspnoea might occur because of a combination of cardiac insufficiency or weakness of respiratory muscles.2 Therefore, during active Cushing’s syndrome, physicians should seek different signs and symptoms when suspecting COVID-19, such as cough, together with dysgeusia, anosmia, and diarrhoea, and should be suspicious of any change in health status of their patients with Cushing’s syndrome, rather than relying on fever and dyspnoea as typical features.

The clinical course of COVID-19 might also be difficult to predict in patients with active Cushing’s syndrome. Generally, patients with COVID-19 and a history of obesity, hypertension, or diabetes have a more severe course, leading to increased morbidity and mortality.1 Because these conditions are observed in most patients with active Cushing’s syndrome,2 these patients might be at an increased risk of severe course, with progression to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), when developing COVID-19. However, a key element in the development of ARDS during COVID-19 is the exaggerated cellular response induced by the cytokine increase, leading to massive alveolar–capillary wall damage and a decline in gas exchange.5 Because patients with Cushing’s syndrome might not mount a normal cytokine response,4 these patients might parodoxically be less prone to develop severe ARDS with COVID-19. Moreover, Cushing’s syndrome and severe COVID-19 are associated with hypercoagulability, such that patients with active Cushing’s syndrome might present an increased risk of thromboembolism with COVID-19. Consequently, because low molecular weight heparin seems to be associated with lower mortality and disease severity in patients with COVID-19,6 and because anticoagulation is also recommended in specific conditions in patients with active Cushing’s syndrome,7 this treatment is strongly advised in hospitalised patients with Cushing’s syndrome who have COVID-19. Furthermore, patients with active Cushing’s syndrome are at increased risk of prolonged duration of viral infections, as well as opportunistic infections, particularly atypical bacterial and invasive fungal infections, leading to sepsis and an increased mortality risk,2 and COVID-19 patients are also at increased risk of secondary bacterial or fungal infections during hospitalisation.1 Therefore, in cases of COVID-19 during active Cushing’s syndrome, prolonged antiviral treatment and empirical prophylaxis with broad-spectrum antibiotics14 should be considered, especially for hospitalised patients (panel).

Panel

Risk factors and clinical suggestions for patients with Cushing’s syndrome who have COVID-19

Reduction of febrile response and enhancement of dyspnoea

Rely on different symptoms and signs suggestive of COVID-19, such as cough, dysgeusia, anosmia, and diarrhoea.

Prolonged duration of viral infections and susceptibility to superimposed bacterial and fungal infections

Consider prolonged antiviral and broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment.

Impairment of glucose metabolism (negative prognostic factor)

Optimise glycaemic control and select cortisol-lowering drugs that improve glucose metabolism. Hypertension (negative prognostic factor) Optimise blood pressure control and select cortisol-lowering drugs that improve blood pressure.

Thrombosis diathesis (negative prognostic factor)

Start antithrombotic prophylaxis, preferably with low-molecular-weight heparin treatment.

Surgery represents the first-line treatment for all causes of Cushing’s syndrome,89 but during the pandemic a delay might be appropriate to reduce the hospital-associated risk of COVID-19, any post-surgical immunodepression, and thromboembolic risks.10 Because immunosuppression and thromboembolic diathesis are common Cushing’s syndrome features,24 during the COVID-19 pandemic, cortisol-lowering medical therapy, including the oral drugs ketoconazole, metyrapone, and the novel osilodrostat, which are usually effective within hours or days, or the parenteral drug etomidate when immediate cortisol control is required, should be temporarily used.9 Nevertheless, an expeditious definitive diagnosis and proper surgical resolution of hypercortisolism should be ensured in patients with malignant forms of Cushing’s syndrome, not only to avoid disease progression risk but also for rapidly ameliorating hypercoagulability and immunospuppression;9 however, if diagnostic procedures cannot be easily secured or surgery cannot be done for limitations of hospital resources due to the pandemic, medical therapy should be preferred. Concomitantly, the optimisation of medical treatment for pre-existing comorbidities as well as the choice of cortisol-lowering drugs with potentially positive effects on obesity, hypertension, or diabates are crucial to improve the eventual clinical course of COVID-19.

Once patients with Cushing’s syndrome are in remission, the risk of infection is substantially decreased, but the comorbidities related to excess glucocorticoids might persist, including obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, together with thromboembolic diathesis.2 Because these are features associated with an increased death risk in patients with COVID-19,1 patients with Cushing’s syndrome in remission should be considered a high-risk population and consequently adopt adequate self-protection strategies to minimise contagion risk.

In conclusion, COVID-19 might have specific clinical presentation, clinical course, and clinical complications in patients who also have Cushing’s syndrome during the active hypercortisolaemic phase, and therefore careful monitoring and specific consideration should be given to this special, susceptible population. Moreover, the use of medical therapy as a bridge treatment while waiting for the pandemic to abate should be considered.

RP reports grants and personal fees from Novartis, Strongbridge, HRA Pharma, Ipsen, Shire, and Pfizer; grants from Corcept Therapeutics and IBSA Farmaceutici; and personal fees from Ferring and Italfarmaco. AMI reports non-financial support from Takeda and Ipsen; grants and non-financial support from Shire, Pfizer, and Corcept Therapeutics. BMKB reports grants from Novartis, Strongbridge, and Millendo; and personal fees from Novartis and Strongbridge. AC reports grants and personal fees from Novartis, Ipsen, Shire, and Pfizer; personal fees from Italfarmaco; and grants from Lilly, Merck, and Novo Nordisk. All other authors declare no competing interests.

References

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From https://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587(20)30215-1/fulltext

Long-Term Obesity Persists Despite Pituitary Adenoma Treatment In Childhood

Sethi A, et al. Clin Endocrinol. 2019;doi:10.1111/CEN.14146.

January 5, 2020

Obesity is common at diagnosis of pituitary adenoma in childhood and may persist despite successful treatment, according to findings published in Clinical Endocrinology.

“The importance of childhood and adolescent obesity on noncommunicable disease in adult life is well recognized, and in this new cohort of patients, we report that obesity is common at presentation of pituitary adenoma in childhood and that successful treatment is not necessarily associated with weight loss,” Aashish Sethi, MD, MBBS, a pediatric endocrinologist in the department of endocrinology at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, United Kingdom, and colleagues wrote. “We have reported obesity, and obesity-related morbidity in a mixed cohort of children and young adults previously, but [to] our knowledge, this is the first time this observation has been reported in a purely pediatric cohort.”

In a retrospective study, Sethi and colleagues analyzed clinical and radiological data from 24 white children from Alder Hey Children’s Hospital followed for a median of 3.3 years between 2000 and 2019 (17 girls; mean age at diagnosis, 15 years). Researchers assessed treatment modality (medical, surgical or radiation therapy), pituitary hormone deficiencies and BMI, as well as results of any genetic testing.

Within the cohort, 13 girls had prolactinomas (mean age, 15 years), including 10 macroadenomas between 11 mm and 35 mm in size. Children presented with menstrual disorders (91%), headache (46%), galactorrhea (46%) and obesity (38%). Nine children were treated with cabergoline alone, three also required surgery, and two were treated with the dopamine agonist cabergoline, surgery and radiotherapy.

Five children had Cushing’s disease (mean age, 14 years; two girls), including one macroadenoma. Those with Cushing’s disease presented with obesity (100%), short stature (60%) and headache (40%). Transsphenoidal resection resulted in biochemical cure; however, two patients experienced relapse 3 and 6 years after surgery, respectively, requiring radiotherapy. One patient also required bilateral adrenalectomy.

Six children had a nonfunctioning pituitary adenoma (mean age, 16 years; two girls), including two macroadenomas. These children presented with obesity (67%), visual field defects (50%) and headache (50%). Four required surgical resections, with two experiencing disease recurrence after surgery and requiring radiotherapy.

During the most recent follow-up exam, 13 children (54.1%) had obesity, including 11 who had obesity at diagnosis.

“The persistence of obesity following successful treatment, in patients with normal pituitary function, suggests that mechanisms other than pituitary hormone excess or deficiency may be important,” the researchers wrote. “It further signifies that obesity should be a part of active management in cases of pituitary adenoma from diagnosis.” – by Regina Schaffer

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

From https://www.healio.com/endocrinology/adrenal/news/online/%7Bde3fd83b-e8e0-4bea-a6c2-99eb896356ab%7D/long-term-obesity-persists-despite-pituitary-adenoma-treatment-in-childhood

New Phase 3 Data Further Support Recorlev’s Ability to Safely Lower Cortisol Levels in Cushing’s Patients

Strongbridge Biopharma released additional positive results from a Phase 3 trial evaluating whether the company’s investigational therapy Recorlev (levoketoconazole) is safe and effective for people with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome.

The latest results were presented in the scientific poster “Safety and Efficacy of Levoketoconazole in Cushing Syndrome:  Initial Results From the Phase 3 SONICS Study,\” at the 18th Annual Congress of the European NeuroEndocrine Association (ENEA), which took place in Wrocław, Poland, last month.

The SONICS study (NCT01838551) was a multi-center, open-label Phase 3 trial evaluating Recorlev’s safety and effectiveness in 94 patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome.

The trial consisted of three parts: a dose-escalation phase to determine the appropriate Recorlev dose that achieved normalization of cortisol levels; a maintenance phase in which patients received the established dose for six months; and a final extended phase, in which patients were treated with Recorlev for an additional six months, with the possibility of dose adjustments.

Its primary goal was a reduction in the levels of cortisol in the patients’ urine after six months of maintenance treatment, without any dose increase during that period. Among secondary goals was a reduction in the characteristically high risk of cardiovascular disease in these people, through the assessment of multiple cardiovascular risk markers.

Strongbridge announced top-line results of the SONICS study in August, which showed that the trial had reached its primary and secondary goals. It concluded last month.

After six months of maintenance therapy, Recorlev successfully lowered to normal the levels of cortisol in 30% of patients without a dose increase. It also led to statistically and clinically significant reductions in cardiovascular risk biomarkers, including blood sugar, cholesterol levels, body weight, and body mass index.

Maria Fleseriu, MD, director of the Oregon Health Sciences University Northwest Pituitary Center, presented additional and detailed results of SONICS at the congress.

Additional analyses showed that among the 77 patients who completed the dose-escalation phase and entered the study’s maintenance phase, 81% had their cortisol levels normalized.

At the end of the six months of maintenance treatment, 29 (53%) of the 55 patients who had their cortisol levels assessed at the beginning of the study and at the end of the maintenance phase had achieved normalization of cortisol levels, regardless of dose increase.

Among all patients who completed maintenance treatment (including patients with some missing data) and regardless of dose increase, 38% had achieved normalization of cortisol levels and 48% recorded a 50% or more decrease or normalization.

The results also highlighted that Recorlev substantially reduced patients’ cortisol levels regardless of their levels at the study’s beginning (which were on average about five-fold higher than the upper limit of normal). In those patients with the highest levels of cortisol in their urine, Recorlev led to a median reduction of more than 80%.

As previously reported, Recorlev was found to be generally well-tolerated, with no new safety concerns, and only 12 participants (12.8%) stopped treatment due to adverse events.

Ten patients had three- or five-fold increased levels of alanine aminotransferase — a liver enzyme used to assess liver damage — which were fully resolved without further complications. These liver-related adverse events “were all noted in the first 60 days, thus suggesting a timeline interval for monitoring,” Fleseriu said in a press release.

“We continue to be encouraged by the positive efficacy results of SONICS and the overall benefit-to-risk profile of Recorlev and look forward to sharing additional planned analyses from the study in the near future,” said Fredric Cohen, Strongbridge’s chief medical officer.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/11/01/new-data-from-phase-3-trial-supports-recorlev-ability-to-safely-treat-cushings-syndrome/

8 medical conditions that could cause sudden weight gain

Weight gain can be associated with hormonal conditions, mood disorders, or other physiological factors. A sudden and unexplained weight gain could be your body’s way of signalling an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed. For the sake of health and long-term well-being, it is important to differentiate between a few harmless extra kilos and a fluctuation that could be hiding a bigger problem. You can only be certain after consulting a healthcare practitioner.

If the weighing scale says your numbers are up but you haven’t changed your eating and exercise habits, you might consider any of the 8 medical conditions:

1.     Hypothyroidism The American Thyroid Association reveals that one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid. The thyroid controls several body functions and your metabolism is one of them. If you’re not producing enough thyroid hormone your body can’t burn as much energy. Symptoms appear throughout your system. They include: weight gain, exhaustion, drier skin, thinner hair, bloating, muscle weakness, constantly feeling cold, and constipation. Once diagnosis is confirmed a doctor can prescribe an oral replacement for thyroid hormone that can relieve symptoms within weeks.

2.     Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) One in 10 women of childbearing age undergoes PCOS. It is an endocrine disorder characterised by an imbalance in the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone.  This results in irregular periods, acne and even facial hair growth. The disorder also disrupts the way the body uses insulin — which is the hormone responsible for converting carbohydrates into energy. As a result the sugars and starches you consume are stored as fat instead of energy, thus, weight gain. PCOS has no cure but women who have it can manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication. A doctor’s consultation will help you find an appropriate method.

3. Insomnia Avoid fake news! Subscribe to the Standard SMS service and receive factual, verified breaking news as it happens. Text the word ‘NEWS’ to 22840 Sleep deprivation can negatively impact both your metabolism and your hunger hormones. Sleeping too little increases ghrelin, the hormone that signals the body that it’s time to eat, while lowering leptin, the hormone that says you are full. The result: increased cravings and snacking to get more energy through the day. Insomnia increases impulsive eating. A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the right amount of sleep could mean consuming up to 10 fewer grams of sugar throughout the day.

4.     Tumours Weight gain around your belly as opposed to your lower body or other areas can be more dangerous to your health. Large pelvic area tumours like uterine or ovarian tumours can inflate the abdomen the way excess fat does. In some cases they can also be cancerous. In addition to weight gain, symptoms of ovarian or uterine tumours include vaginal bleeding, lower back pain, constipation and painful intercourse. But these signs are common for other conditions as well so it‘s worth confirming with a doctor to rule out any possible complications.

5. Peri menopause and menopause Perimenopause -the transition period to menopause can start as early as a woman’s mid-thirties, but usually starts in their forties. This period triggers hormones like oestrogen to rise and fall unevenly, which can cue weight gain in some women. Genetics are a good starting point on how your body experiences these changes, so it would be helpful to look into how it affected your mother and other older women in your family. Other signs of perimenopause are mood swings, irregular periods, hot flashes, and changes in libido. Age also contributes to loss of muscle mass and increase in body fat. An Ob-Gyn should be able to talk you through these changes and recommend management options.

6.     Mood disorders Depression and anxiety can result in fatigue, lack of focus and irritability. Some people cope with anxious or sad feelings by mindlessly munching on food they don’t really need. Additionally chronic stress throws your body into fight-or-flight mode, leading to a surge of adrenaline, as well as a heavy dose of the hormone cortisol –responsible for restoring energy reserves and storing fat.

7. Cushing syndrome Sometimes tumours on the pituitary or adrenal glands can contribute to a condition known as Cushing’s disease which is characterised by high levels of cortisol in the blood. Taking long term steroids could also result in this disease. Patients with Cushing syndrome will experience rapid weight gain in the face, abdomen and chest. They also display slender arms and legs compared to the heavy weight in the core of the body. Other symptoms include: high blood pressure, mood swings, osteoporosis, discoloured stretch marks, acne, and fragile skin. Depending on the cause, Cushing‘s disease can be treated in a different ways.

8. New medication Before starting on any new prescription medication, ask your doctor if weight gain is a possible side effect. Birth control pills may lead to weight gain depending on the brand, dosage, and the person’s hormonal levels. Psychiatric medications, especially for depression and bipolar disorder, have been known to cause weight gain, as they target the brain. Similarly, taking insulin to manage diabetes or medications that treat high blood pressure can also lead to extra kilos, so staying active and sticking to a strict meal plan can help you take insulin without unnecessarily weight gain.

Adapted from https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/lifestyle/article/2001297348/8-medical-conditions-that-could-cause-sudden-weight-gain

Kiko Matthews, Pituitary Cushing’s Survivor Solo Rows Atlantic to Raise £100K For Hospital That Saved Her Life

Adapted from an article at http://metro.co.uk/2017/07/24/ex-teacher-is-rowing-across-the-atlantic-solo-to-raise-money-for-hospital-who-cured-her-brain-tumour-6773756/

You’d imagine if you’d never set foot in a rowing boat before, apart from, say, an abortive attempt in a boating lake age 9, that you would set yourself a fairly tame goal for your first challenge when you did finally take up the sport.

Not so Kiko Matthews. The science teacher-turned-paddle board instructor and adventurer, this time last year a total beginner in a rowing boat, set herself the challenge of rowing solo across the Atlantic – before she’d actually picked up an oar.

Not only does she plan to raise £100,000 for King’s College Hospital with the row – after they saved her life when she was struck with a rare disease – but she plans to break the female world record for a solo Atlantic crossing while she’s doing it.

The previous record for a woman rowing solo across the Atlantic is 56 days, the male record is 35.

Kiko plans to do it in 45, taking 11 days off the current female record.

Her determination and dedication indicate that she’ll do it too.

She has been training daily for 7 months since she made the vow (she hadn’t even been drinking when she made it, she tells me) in order to smash the record for the 3,000-mile trip.

On the way she will encounter storms, freezing nights, scorching hot days, sharks – and a whole lot of solitude. ‘I have to be skipper, medic, my own best friend – and, sometimes, no doubt, my own worst enemy,’ she says.

She’ll have an emergency button in case of crisis — and not much else, besides her equipment and her ego.

A rigorous regime of on-land and on-water rowing, circuits, weights and cross-training with cycling and running is preparing her for the 16 hours a day of rowing she’ll have to put in to make the record crossing.

The months of 4am wake-up calls are, as you’ll see from her Facebook and Instagram posts, made somewhat easier by incredible sunrises, sunsets and glass-like oceans, but they are nonetheless gruelling.

However, they will have set her up for what will be six sleep-deprived weeks where she will try to shoehorn what sleep she can – a four-hour chunk and a few cat naps throughout the day – into the eight hours she has to eat and rest when she is not rowing.

No matter how much work she is putting in, the challenge is ambitious — but her chances are improved immeasurably not only by her tenacity (you have to meet her to believe it) but the fact that the boat she is using for the crossing is the same one that was used by the current male solo Atlantic World Record holder, Charlie Pitcher.

He set the new record for solo male crossing in 2013, taking 35 days to row the 3,000 miles in the carbon-hulled, 6.5m ocean rowing boat Soma of Essex.

His boat was the first of its kind to have the rower facing backwards into the waves rather than rowing forward, which made the boat far more aerodynamic and helped him to shave 5 days off the previous 40-day record.

And, as Kiko says, ‘when you’re in the middle of the Atlantic with nothing for miles either side, you don’t really need to see where you’re going anyway.’

Now, Pitcher has not only lent Kiko his record-breaking boat, but he’s helping to train her too. And, having been exposed to the whirlwind that is Kiko Matthews, he is confident she can achieve her goal.

‘I met Kiko at a charity function we were both involved with and we just hit it off immediately, like we had known each other for years,’ he says. ‘I wanted to lend her the boat because I believe she has what it takes to smash this, and not many others do,’ he says.

‘To break a tough world record like this, you need all the right tools in your bag. Kiko has the full house.’

The mammoth physical undertaking is all the more impressive when you understand how far Kiko has come health wise.

The once fit young woman was so rapidly debilitated by this mystery disease she had to drag herself upstairs on her hands and knees, yet doctors could not find out what was wrong.

Unlike most people with Cushing’s, who experience the condition worsening over a long period, sometimes years, the size of Kiko’s tumour meant the symptoms were aggressive and dramatic.

As she deteriorated, she was quickly referred to King’s College Hospital where she lay for a month believing she would die before doctors were able to diagnose Cushing’s.

Even then, her potassium levels were too low for her to survive surgery so she was taken to intensive care unit until she was strong enough for doctors to operate and remove the tumour.

Kiko says now that those were her darkest times. ‘I couldn’t see, I couldn’t speak properly or think. I was too weak to move,’ she says.

Ultimately, the disease could have proved fatal. But with the tumour finally removed, the levels of cortisol in her blood reduced from 3,000 mcg/dL to 30 mcg/dL in three days.

Within five, the brain fluid stopped dripping from her nose, the swelling in her body had gone down, her memory returned and diabetes and other symptoms vanished.

Soon after her recovery, Kiko left her role as a science teacher to set up SupKiko, a company teaching paddle boarding, and a charity, The Big Stand, that gives opportunities to young people and those with mental health problems.

While she still leads paddle boarding groups, most of her time is now spent training for the Atlantic crossing, which sets off from the Canary Islands in January.

….

Ironically, both the challenge and fundraising attempt for KCH has added poignancy now.

A few months into her training, Kiko began to feel ‘strange’ symptoms and, as they developed, she began to suspect the return of Cushing’s.

An MRI detected a 3mm tumour on her pituitary gland, confirming her fears, and she found herself back at King’s where Kiko says that the doctors, who remembered her aggressive and rare case 8 years ago, have been ‘fantastic’.

She is booked for surgery on 1 August when surgeons will go in through her nose to remove the tumour quickly so that she can continue her training.

‘With the help of an amazing team of nurses and doctors, I’ll be 100% fine for my row in January. I’ll make sure I am,’ she says.

‘The tumour returning has only made me even more determined to break the record and raise the money,’ she says.

‘The doctors will have saved my life not once, but twice.’

Read the entire article at http://metro.co.uk/2017/07/24/ex-teacher-is-rowing-across-the-atlantic-solo-to-raise-money-for-hospital-who-cured-her-brain-tumour-6773756/

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