Measuring TSH Levels Could Improve Diagnosis for Cushing’s Syndrome

Measuring the variation in thyroid stimulating hormone blood levels between midnight and morning may be better for diagnosing Cushing’s syndrome than current approaches, a study suggests. 

The study, “TSH ratio as a novel diagnostic method for Cushing’s syndrome,” was published in the Endocrine Journal

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is a condition characterized by excess cortisol in the blood, which can lead to a variety of issues, including obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal lipid levels, osteoporosis, depression, and cognitive impairments.

In some cases, patients have high cortisol levels, but lack the typical physical features of Cushing’s syndrome. These patients are considered to have subclinical Cushing’s syndrome (SCS), and are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Being able to properly diagnose CS and SCS is of utmost importance for proper intervention and treatment of these patients.

Current methods of diagnosis rely on dexamethasone suppressing tests or late-night salivary and blood cortisol tests, as well as measurements of cortisol in urine. However, because cortisol is a stress-hormone, it can be elevated in cases of mental or physical stress, leading to false positive results on these tests. 

Researchers in this study examined if another hormone, called the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), could be used to diagnose Cushing’s syndrome with better accuracy.

TSH is a hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland and whose secretion is affected by the body’s circadian rhythm. Its highest levels in the blood are usually seen in the late evening or early morning. However, patients with CS or SCS lack this nocturnal increase in TSH levels, which could be useful as a new diagnostic approach.

The study recruited 142 patients with suspected CS and SCS, and 21 patients with depression, being treated at the Osaka University Hospital in Japan.

Patients received the ordinal screening tests for Cushing’s syndrome, along with measurements of their midnight-to-morning TSH levels.

After taking the tests, only 20 patients were diagnosed as having Cushing’s, including 12 with over (normal) Cushing’s syndrome and 10 with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome.

Patients with Cushing’s had significantly lower midnight TSH levels than non-Cushing’s patients. No differences were seen in morning levels between the groups. Of note, TSH ratio was maintained in patients with depression, suggesting TSH levels could be used to diagnose Cushing’s in patients with depression.

Researchers observed that serum TSH ratio had powerful diagnostic accuracy. Among patients identified as having Cushing’s, 90% actually had the disease. And among patients excluded for Cushing’s, 95% did not have the condition. These sensitivity and specificity rates were better than with current diagnostic approaches.

However, when considering this test, patients with a severe TSH deficiency must be taken into account.

Overall, these results suggest that the midnight-to-morning serum TSH ratio is a potential new way to diagnose both CS and SCS with a higher specificity than the current diagnostic methods

“The strength of our current survey is its prospective design and the evaluation of not only overt CS but also SCS. The limitation is the relatively small number of CS group patients, especially overt CD,” the researchers wrote.

“New prospective studies will be needed with a larger number of patients in order to further clarify the optimal TSH ratio in the diagnosis of CS,” the study concluded. 

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/06/28/measuring-tsh-levels-may-improve-cushings-syndrome-diagnosis-study/

ACTH/Cortisol Ratio May Be Simple, Reliable Test to Diagnose Cushing’s Disease

The ratio between adrenocorticotropic hormone levels and cortisol levels in the blood is higher among Cushing’s disease patients than in healthy people, a new study has found, suggesting that measurement could be used to help diagnose the disease.

Also, higher values at diagnosis could predict if the disease will recur and indicate larger and more invasive tumors.

The research, “The Utility of Preoperative ACTH/Cortisol Ratio for the Diagnosis and Prognosis of Cushing’s Disease,” was published in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice.

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is characterized by excess levels of cortisol. In patients with suspected CS, clinicians recommend testing late-night salivary or plasma (blood) cortisol, 24-hour urine-free cortisol (UC), as well as morning cortisol levels after low-dose suppression with dexamethasone, a corticosteroid.

CS may be ACTH-dependent or ACTH-independent, meaning that the high cortisol levels are caused by excess ACTH production.

Patients with CD have elevated levels of ACTH. A tumor, usually an adenoma, causes the pituitary gland to produce excess levels of ACTH, which stimulate the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol usually inhibits ACTH production. However, in CD patients, this feedback mechanism is absent.

Despite extensive research and clinical data, the variable and usually nonspecific signs and symptoms of CD still represent relevant challenges for diagnosis. Clinical manifestations must be associated with biochemical tests, which often have led to conflicting results.

Studies showed that although ACTH levels correlate with the size of the pituitary adenoma, the levels of cortisol do not increase as much. In fact, lower cortisol/ACTH ratios have been reported in patients with macroadenoma – which is greater than 10 millimeters in size – than in those with microadenoma, which is smaller than 10 millimeters.

Conversely, the research team hypothesized that besides their utility for determining the cause of CS, the inverse ratio – ACTH/cortisol – also may be useful for diagnosis.

The team evaluated the pretreatment plasma ACTH/cortisol levels in CS patients with excess cortisol production due to abnormal pituitary or adrenal function. Data from patients were compared with that of individuals without CS.

The study included 145 CS patients diagnosed from 2007 to 2016, 119 patients with CD, 26 with ACTH-independent CS (AICS), and 114 controls with no CS.

Patients’ clinical, laboratory, imaging, postsurgical and follow-up data were analyzed.

Results showed that patients with CD had a significantly higher basal ACTH/cortisol ratio than controls or those with AICS.

“These results showed ACTH/cortisol ratio might be a simple and useful test for the diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS,” the researchers wrote.

Importantly, the scientists observed that a ACTH/cortisol ratio above 2.5 indicated identified 82 percent of positive CS cases and 63 percent of controls.

Overall, “an ACTH/cortisol ratio [greater than] 2.5 would be beneficial to diagnose CD together with other diagnostic tests,” they concluded.

Patients with recurrent CD showed higher pretreatment ACTH levels and ACTH/cortisol ratio than those who achieved sustained remission. CD patients also exhibited more invasive, atypical and larger tumors, as well as lower postoperative remission and higher recurrence rates.

“Higher ACTH/cortisol ratio might predict poorer prognosis,” the investigators said.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/16/acth-cortisol-ratio-reliable-test-diagnose-cushings-disease/

Steroid Medication for Nasal Obstruction in Infants May Cause Cushing’s Syndrome

Intranasal steroid drops used to treat nasal obstruction may cause Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal insufficiency in infants, a case study of two patients suggests.

The study, “Iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal insufficiency in infants on intranasal dexamethasone drops for nasal obstruction – Case series and literature review,” was published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology.

Children with nasal obstruction may have severe delays in development and can face life-threatening complications later in life such as obstructive sleep apnea and cardiopulmonary problems.

While intranasal steroid drops have become increasingly popular as a substitute for surgery, they can have adverse effects. In addition to suppressing the immune system and changing metabolism, high levels of corticosteroids in the blood may cause Cushing’s syndrome.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College presented two cases of adrenal gland insufficiency and Cushing’s syndrome caused by intranasal dexamethasone drops. Dexamethasone is a type of corticosteroid medication.

First, they described the case of a 3-month-old boy who was taken to the hospital following a life-threatening episode at home after feeding. A physical evaluation revealed nasal congestion with no additional anatomic abnormalities.

Treatment with nasal dexamethasone drops three times a day improved his breathing. While the dosage was later decreased to three drops once daily, a congestion episode led the mother to increase the dose back to the initial recommendation.

After seven weeks of treatment, the boy was noted to have facial puffiness, leading to an endocrine evaluation that revealed low cortisol levels. The dose was eventually reduced, and the boy’s cortisol levels returned to normal after several months.

The second case was a 6-week-old boy with a history of chronic congestion and difficulty feeding. He had severe nasal obstruction and required intubation due to respiratory distress. A nasal exam revealed damaged mucosa with severe nasal cavity narrowing, and he began treatment with three ciprofloxacin-dexamethasone drops three times a day.

After two and a half weeks of treatment, the boy’s cortisol levels were considerably low, and adrenal insufficiency was diagnosed. The treatment dose was reduced in an attempt to improve cortisol levels, but nasal obstruction symptoms continued.

The child then underwent surgery to resolve his nasal obstruction, and the treatment with steroid drops was discontinued. While his cortisol levels subsequently improved, they continued to be low, suggesting that he may have a hormone-related disease.

Despite the benefits of steroid-based nasal drops, small infants are more sensitive to steroid compounds. In addition, nasal drops are more easily absorbed than nasal sprays, suggesting that infants taking these medications should be better controlled for side effects.

“Patients started on this therapy must be closely monitored in a multi-disciplinary fashion to ensure patient safety and optimal symptom resolution,” the researchers suggested.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/09/cushing-syndrome-infants-can-be-caused-by-steroid-based-nasal-drops-study-suggests/

Case Report Shows Rare Adrenal Tumors Associated with Cushing’s Disease

Pituitary tumors that produce too much adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) have been associated with the development of rare tumors on the adrenal glands, called adrenal myelolipomas, for the first time in a case report.

The study, “Case report of a bilateral adrenal myelolipoma associated with Cushing disease,” was published in the journal Medicine.

Myelolipomas, composed of mature fat cells and blood-forming cells, are usually asymptomatic and do not produce hormones. In many cases, these tumors are detected by accident when patients undergo imaging scans for other conditions.

The cause of these tumors is unknown, but due to their benign nature, they do not spread to other parts of the body. However, they can grow up to 34 centimeters (about 13 inches), leading to tissue death and hemorrhage.

Researchers at Soon Chun Hyang University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea, described the case of a 52-year-old man with myelolipoma possibly caused by an ACTH-secreting pituitary tumor.

During a routine checkup, researchers detected a mass in the patient’s spleen. Further abdominal evaluations identified tissue lesions in both adrenal glands consistent with myelolipoma. Besides the masses, the patient did not show any other Cushing-associated physical characteristics.

However, the patient’s ACTH levels were two times higher than the normal upper limit. Cortisol levels were also increased and unresponsive to low-dose dexamethasone treatment.

No additional lesions were found that could help explain the high ACTH and cortisol levels. But analysis of blood samples collected from the veins draining the pituitary glands revealed the right gland was producing too much ACTH, strongly suggesting Cushing’s disease.

Both the left adrenal gland and pituitary tumor were surgically removed. The samples collected during surgery confirmed the benign nature of the adrenal tumors, and the diagnosis of abnormal, ACTH-positive pituitary gland tissue.

Three days after the surgeries, hormone levels were back to normal. But a follow-up evaluation five months later again showed increased ACTH levels. Cortisol levels, however, were normal.

For the next seven years, the patient was evaluated every six months. During a five-year period, the size of the right adrenal gland was found to have grown. Imaging analysis confirmed the existence of small, new lesions in both pituitary glands.

“This case confers valuable information about the clinical course of adrenal myelolipoma associated with Cushing disease,” the researchers said. It also “supports the notion that ACTH can be associated with the development of bilateral adrenal myelolipomas.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/08/bilateral-adrenal-myelolipoma-associated-with-cushing-disease-case-report/

Adrenal Gland Lump Led to 5-year-old Developing Cushing’s, Starting Puberty

Non-cancerous adrenal gland tumors can lead to rare cases of Cushing’s syndrome in young children and puberty starting years before it should, a case study of a 5-year-old boy shows.

Removing his right adrenal gland eliminated the problems, the Saudi Arabian researchers said.

Their report dealt with tumors in epithelial cells, which line the surface of many of the body’s structures and cavities.

The research, “Testosterone- and Cortisol-secreting Oncocytic Adrenocortical Adenoma in the Pediatric Age-group,” appeared in the journal Pediatric and Developmental Pathology.

Most tumors in adrenal gland epithelial cells are benign and generate normal levels of hormones. But there are cases when the tumors over-produce steroids and other kinds of hormones, including sex hormones. Sometimes the over-production can lead to Cushing’s syndrome.

The 5-year-old boy’s over-production of adrenal gland hormones led to both symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome and signs that he was starting puberty, the researchers said.

One reason the case was rare is that the average age when Cushing’s develops is 40, doctors say. Another is that epithelial adrenal gland tumors account for only 0.2 percent of all tumors in children, the researchers said.

Signs that the boy was starting puberty began appearing eight months before his parents took him for treatment. Doctors discovered he had the weight gain and rounded face associated with Cushing’s, but a battery of tests detected no other problems. No family members were experiencing the symptoms he was, doctors added.

Biochemical tests showed that the boy had a high level of cortisol in his blood, which doctors were unable to lower with the corticosteroid suppression medication dexamethasone.

Physicians also discovered that the boy had elevated levels of the male hormone testosterone, the cortisol precursor 17-hydroxyprogestrone, the cortisol-releasing hormone adrenocorticotropin, and another male hormone that the adrenal gland produces — dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate

In contrast, doctors discovered a below-normal level of luteinising, a sex hormone that the pituitary gland generates.

Another unusual manifestation of the boy’s condition was that his bone growth was that of a child a year older than he.

Doctors discovered a non-cancerous tumor in his right adrenal gland that they decided to remove. When they did, they discovered no evidence of bleeding, tissue scarring or cell death.

They put the boy on a hydrocortisone supplement, which they reduced over time and finally ended.

Twenty-eight months after the surgery, the boy showed no signs of Cushing’s disease or early puberty. And his weight, cortisol and adrenocorticotropin hormone levels were normal.

“To the best of our knowledge, our patient represents the first male patient” with a benign epithelial-cell adrenal gland tumor “in the pediatric population, with clinical presentation of precocious [early] puberty and Cushing’s syndrome,” the researchers wrote.

“As these tumors are exceptionally rare, reporting of additional cases and investigation of clinicopathological [disease] data are needed for better characterization of these tumors,” they wrote.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/02/16/cushings-syndrome-early-puberty-5-year-old-boy-case-study/

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