Cyclic Cortisol Production May Lead to Misdiagnosis in Cushing’s

Increased cortisol secretion may follow a cyclic pattern in patients with adrenal incidentalomas, a phenomenon that may lead to misdiagnosis, a study reports.

Since cyclic subclinical hypercortisolism may increase the risk for heart problems, researchers recommend extended follow-up with repeated tests to measure cortisol levels in these patients.

The study, “Cyclic Subclinical Hypercortisolism: A Previously Unidentified Hypersecretory Form of Adrenal Incidentalomas,” was published in the Journal of Endocrine Society.

Adrenal incidentalomas (AI) are asymptomatic masses in the adrenal glands discovered on an imaging test ordered for a problem unrelated to adrenal disease. While most of these benign tumors are considered non-functioning, meaning they do not produce steroid hormones like cortisol, up to 30% do produce and secrete steroids.

Subclinical Cushing’s syndrome is an asymptomatic condition characterized by mild cortisol excess without the specific signs of Cushing’s syndrome. The long-term exposure to excess cortisol may lead to cardiovascular problems in these patients.

While non-functioning adenomas have been linked with metabolic problems, guidelines say that if excess cortisol is ruled out after the first evaluation, patients no longer need additional follow-up.

However, cortisol secretion can be cyclic in Cushing’s syndrome, meaning that clinicians might not detect excess amounts of cortisol at first and misdiagnose patients.

In an attempt to determine whether cyclic cortisol production is also seen in patients with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome and whether these patients have a higher risk for metabolic complications, researchers in Brazil reviewed the medical records of 251 patients with AI — 186 women, median 60 years old — followed from 2006 to 2017 in a single reference center.

Cortisol levels were measured after a dexamethasone suppression test (DST). Dexamethasone is used to stop the adrenal glands from producing cortisol. In healthy patients, this treatment is expected to reduce cortisol levels, but in patients whose tumors also produce cortisol, the levels often remain elevated.

Patients were diagnosed with cyclic subclinical Cushing’s syndrome if they had at least two normal and two abnormal DST tests.

From the 251 patients, only 44 performed the test at least three times and were included in the analysis. The results showed that 20.4% of patients had a negative DST test and were considered non-functioning adenomas.

An additional 20.4% had elevated cortisol levels in all DST tests and received a diagnosis of sustained subclinical Cushing’s syndrome.

The remaining 59.2% had discordant results in their tests, with 18.3% having at least two positive and two negative test results, matching the criteria for cyclic cortisol production, and 40.9% having only one discordant test, being diagnosed as possibly cyclic subclinical Cushing’s syndrome.

Interestingly, 20 of the 44 patients had a normal cortisol response at their first evaluation. However, 11 of these patients failed to maintain normal responses in subsequent tests, with four receiving a diagnosis of cyclic subclinical Cushing’s syndrome and seven as possibly cyclic subclinical Cushing’s.

Overall, the findings suggest that patients with adrenal incidentalomas should receive extended follow-up with repeated DST tests, helping identify those with cyclic cortisol secretion.

“Lack of recognition of this phenomenon makes follow-up of patients with AI misleading because even cyclic SCH may result in potential cardiovascular risk,” the study concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/04/11/cyclic-cortisol-production-may-lead-to-misdiagnosis-in-cushings-study-finds/

Interview May 13 with Michelle B (MichelleB), Cyclic Cushing’s Patient

Hello all, I’m Michelle mother of 3 beautiful children, I work part-time, 33yrs young, non-smoker, non-drinker, overall health is good for the most part…..Where do I even begin.

I just recently received the diagnosis of cyclic Cushing’s. I’m not really sure how long I have actually had Cushing’s because I have had a diagnosis of PCOS since I was 17 yrs. old ( I’m now the ripe young age of 33). However looking back through labs with my endocrinologist who I see every 6 months, my ACTH levels have been elevated for a bit over 1 yr. It was not until recently January of 2015- things were going terribly wrong.

Starting in January I started to feel genuinely unwell, on a regular basis. I cant really explain all my symptoms there were so many different sensations and feelings that were seemingly different daily. However the red flag was I was having blood pressure spikes from really high, to very low back to back. I never had any blood pressure issues so this was a concern that led me to see a cardiologist. Upon tons of testing the cardio MD felt that something was telling my otherwise very healthy heart to do this and I should see a endocrinologist. (thank goodness for him) I contacted my endo and let him know…. the testing began.

I did every test: the midnightcortisol saliva test, dex suppression, 24 hr urine test, CRH stimulation testing. And I did them more than once. Each time it was a different response either, inconclusive, normal high, or high. I was then referred to the head of the Cleveland clinics pituitary department Dr. Kennedy. He said he is having a hard time believing when he looks at me that its Cushing’s. However all my labs say it is. I will say I do fit the mold of PCOS to a tee- which symptoms of that do coincide with Cushing’s but he still said we have to be sure its Cushing’s. To add to the mix I did have a normal MRI as well.

Dr. Kennedy started me on a 2 week midnight cortisol saliva test- Upon completion we noted levels of cortisol all over the place, some Normal, normal on high range, high, and really high. He confirmed with all the other tests this is Cushing’s. Now we are trying to figure out what is next…. and where is this damn little tumor at. he feels that it is most likely in the pituitary from my test results, but we still are not ruling out else where. He is thinking that the next step would be exploratory neurosurgery or the IPSS. I’m not sure what to think of all this, except I want to hope for the best like everyone- and just be cured!!

On a side note during all of this I also had episodes of severe pain in my chest and nausea. I went to see a GI who did an upper endo scope. They found I had eosinpphilic esophagitis. I also have never had any GI problems until now; and they came on suddenly. Im also having pain in my pancreas area- not sure if any of the two are related at all to Cushing’s. But once again I was fine until recently with all these issues at once it seems.

wish me luck on further testing, treatment, and ultimately a CURE!!

interview

Michelle was our guest in an interview on BlogTalk Radio  Wednesday, May 13, 2015.

The archived interview is available now through iTunes Podcasts (Cushie Chats) or BlogTalkRadio. There are currently 83 other past interviews for your listening pleasure!

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Cyclic Cushing’s syndrome: a clinical challenge

  1. J R Meinardi1,2,
  2. B H R Wolffenbuttel2 and
  3. R P F Dullaart2

+Author Affiliations


  1. 1Department of Internal Medicine, Canisius Wilhelmina Ziekenhuis, PO Box 9015, 6500 GS Nijmegen, The Netherlands and 2Department of Endocrinology, University Medical Centre Groningen, University of Groningen, PO Box 30001, 9700 RB Groningen, The Netherlands
  1. (Correspondence should be addressed to: R P F Dullaart; Email:r.p.f.dullaart@int.umcg.nl)

Abstract

Cyclic Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is a rare disorder, characterized by repeated episodes of cortisol excess interspersed by periods of normal cortisol secretion. The so-called cycles of hypercortisolism can occur regularly or irregularly with intercyclic phases ranging from days to years.

To formally diagnose cyclic CS, three peaks and two troughs of cortisol production should be demonstrated. Our review of 65 reported cases demonstrates that cyclic CS originates in 54% of cases from a pituitary corticotroph adenoma, in 26% from an ectopic ACTH-producing tumour and in about 11% from an adrenal tumour, the remainder being unclassified. The pathophysiology of cyclic CS is largely unknown.

The majority of patients with cyclic CS have clinical signs of CS, which can be either fluctuating or permanent. In a minority of patients, clinical signs of CS are absent. The fluctuating clinical picture and discrepant biochemical findings make cyclic CS extremely hard to diagnose. Clinicians should therefore be aware of this clinical entity and actively search for it in all patients with suspected CS but normal biochemistry or vice versa.

Frequent measurements of urinary cortisol or salivary cortisol levels are a reliable and convenient screening tool for suspected cyclic CS. Cortisol stimulation or suppression tests may give spurious results owing to spontaneous falls or rises in serum cortisol at the time of testing. When cyclic CS is biochemically confirmed, further imaging and laboratory studies are guided by the presence or absence of ACTH dependency. In cases of suspected ectopic ACTH production, specific biochemical testing for carcinoids or neuroendocrine tumours is required, including measurements of serotonin in platelets and/or urine, chromogranin A and calcitonin.

Read the entire article here:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/159503297/Cyclic-Cushing%E2%80%99s-syndrome-a-clinical-challenge

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Hypercortisolism Is Associated With Increased Coronary Arterial Atherosclerosis

Hypercortisolism Is Associated With Increased Coronary Arterial Atherosclerosis: Analysis of Noninvasive Coronary Angiography Using Multidetector Computerized Tomography

Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 05/21/2013  Clinical Article

  1. Nicola M. Neary*,
  2. O. Julian Booker*,
  3. Brent S. Abel,
  4. Jatin R. Matta,
  5. Nancy Muldoon,
  6. Ninet Sinaii,
  7. Roderic I. Pettigrew,
  8. Lynnette K. Nieman and
  9. Ahmed M. Gharib

Author Affiliations


  1. Program in Reproductive and Adult Endocrinology (N.M.N., L.K.N., B.S.A.), Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892; Laboratory of Cardiac Energetics (O.J.B.), National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892; Integrative Cardiovascular Imaging Laboratory (J.R.M., R.I.P., A.M.G.), National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892; Critical Care Medicine (N.M.), Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892; and Biostatistics and Clinical Epidemiology Service (N.S.), Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892
  1. Address all correspondence and requests for reprints to: Ahmed M. Gharib, MB, ChB, National Institutes of Health, Building 10, Room 3-5340, Mail Stop Code 1263, 10 Center Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892. E-mail: agharib@mail.nih.gov.
  1. * N.M.N. and O.J.B. contributed equally to this work.

Abstract

Background: Observational studies show that glucocorticoid therapy and the endogenous hypercortisolism of Cushing’s syndrome (CS) are associated with increased rates of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. However, the causes of these findings remain largely unknown.

Objective: To determine whether CS patients have increased coronary atherosclerosis.

Design: A prospective case-control study was performed.

Setting: Subjects were evaulated in a clinical research center.

Subjects: Fifteen consecutive patients with ACTH-dependent CS, 14 due to an ectopic source and 1 due to pituitary Cushing’s disease were recruited. Eleven patients were studied when hypercortisolemic; 4 patients were eucortisolemic due to medication (3) or cyclic hypercortisolism (1). Fifteen control subjects with at least one risk factor for cardiac disease were matched 1:1 for age, sex, and body mass index.

Primary outcome variables: Agatston score a measure of calcified plaque and non-calcified coronary plaque volume were quantified using a multidetector CT (MDCT) coronary angiogram scan. Additional variables included fasting lipids, blood pressure, history of hypertension or diabetes, and 24-hour urine free cortisol excretion.

Results: CS patients had significantly greater noncalcified plaque volume and Agatston score (noncalcified plaque volume [mm3] median [interquartile ranges]: CS 49.5 [31.4, 102.5], controls 17.9 [2.6, 25.3], P < .001; Agatston score: CS 70.6 [0, 253.1], controls 0 [0, 7.6]; P < .05). CS patients had higher systolic and diastolic blood pressures than controls (systolic: CS 143 mm Hg [135, 173]; controls, 134 [123, 136], P < .02; diastolic CS: 86 [80, 99], controls, 76 [72, 84], P < .05).

Conclusions: Increased coronary calcifications and noncalcified coronary plaque volumes are present in patients with active or previous hypercortisolism. Increased atherosclerosis may contribute to the increased rates of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in patients with glucocorticoid excess.

  • Received October 29, 2012.
  • Accepted March 7, 2013.

From JCEM

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