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:

What Causes Blood Sugar to Rise in Non-Diabetics?

High blood sugar or glucose, also called hyperglycemia, occurs when there is too much sugar in the blood. High blood sugar is the primary symptom that underlies diabetes, but it can also occur in people who don’t have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, either because of stress or trauma, or gradually as a result of certain chronic conditions.

It is important to manage high blood sugar, even if you don’t have diabetes, because elevated blood glucose can delay your ability to heal, increase your risk of infections, and cause irreversible damage to your nerves, blood vessels, and organs, such as your eyes and kidneys. Blood vessel damage from high blood sugar also increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Non-Diabetic Hyperglycemia and Prediabetes

You are considered to have impaired glucose tolerance or prediabetes if you have a fasting glucose level between 100–125 mg/dL, and hyperglycemia if your fasting blood glucose level is greater than 125 mg/dL, or greater than 180 mg/dL one to two hours after eating.

The body obtains glucose mainly through carbohydrate consumption, but also through the breakdown of glycogen to glucose—a process called glycogenolysis—or conversion of non-carbohydrate sources to glucose—called gluconeogenesis—that primarily occurs in the liver.

While 50% to 80% of glucose is used by the brain, kidneys, and red blood cells for energy, the remaining supply of glucose is used to produce energy. It is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles, and can be tapped into at a later time for energy or converted into fat tissue.

In healthy people, blood glucose levels are regulated by the hormone insulin to stay at a steady level of 80–100 mg/dL. Insulin maintains steady blood sugar by increasing the uptake and storage of glucose and decreasing inflammatory proteins that raise blood sugar when there is an excess of glucose in the blood.

Certain conditions can increase your blood glucose levels by impairing the ability of insulin to transport glucose out of the bloodstream. When this occurs, you develop hyperglycemia, which puts you at an increased risk of prediabetes, diabetes, and related complications.

Common Causes

Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome results from excess secretion of the adrenocorticotropic hormone, a hormone produced in the anterior portion of the pituitary gland that causes excess cortisol to be produced and released from the adrenal glands. Pituitary adenomas, or tumors of the pituitary gland, are the cause of Cushing’s syndrome in more than 70% of cases, while prolonged use of corticosteroid medication can also significantly increase the risk.

People with Cushing’s syndrome are at an increased risk of developing impaired glucose tolerance and hyperglycemia as a result of increased levels of cortisol throughout the body. Cortisol is a hormone that counteracts the effects of insulin by blocking the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream, thereby increasing insulin resistance and maintaining high blood sugar levels. Elevated cortisol levels also partially decrease the release of insulin from where it is produced in the pancreas.

Approximately 10% to 30% of people with Cushing’s syndrome will develop impaired glucose tolerance, while 40% to 45% will develop diabetes.

Corticosteroid medication is often prescribed to decrease inflammation throughout the body, but can lead to the development of Cushing’s syndrome and hyperglycemia because it activates specific enzymes that increase the conversion of non-carbohydrate molecules into glucose (gluconeogenesis). Corticosteroids also disrupt pancreatic cell function by inhibiting cell signaling pathways involved in the release of insulin from the pancreas.

Read other causes at https://www.verywellhealth.com/causes-blood-sugar-rise-in-non-diabetics-5120349

Rapid Control Of Ectopic Cushing’s Syndrome During The Covid-19 Pandemic in a Patient With Chronic Hypokalaemia

This article was originally published here

Endocrinol Diabetes Metab Case Rep. 2021 May 1;2021:EDM210038. doi: 10.1530/EDM-21-0038. Online ahead of print.

ABSTRACT

SUMMARY: In this case report, we describe the management of a patient who was admitted with an ectopic ACTH syndrome during the COVID pandemic with new-onset type 2 diabetes, neutrophilia and unexplained hypokalaemia. These three findings when combined should alert physicians to the potential presence of Cushing’s syndrome (CS). On admission, a quick diagnosis of CS was made based on clinical and biochemical features and the patient was treated urgently using high dose oral metyrapone thus allowing delays in surgery and rapidly improving the patient’s clinical condition. This resulted in the treatment of hyperglycaemia, hypokalaemia and hypertension reducing cardiovascular risk and likely risk for infection. Observing COVID-19 pandemic international guidelines to treat patients with CS has shown to be effective and offers endocrinologists an option to manage these patients adequately in difficult times.

LEARNING POINTS: This case report highlights the importance of having a low threshold for suspicion and investigation for Cushing’s syndrome in a patient with neutrophilia and hypokalaemia, recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes especially in someone with catabolic features of the disease irrespective of losing weight. It also supports the use of alternative methods of approaching the diagnosis and treatment of Cushing’s syndrome during a pandemic as indicated by international protocols designed specifically for managing this condition during Covid-19.

PMID:34013889 | DOI:10.1530/EDM-21-0038

From https://www.docwirenews.com/abstracts/rapid-control-of-ectopic-cushings-syndrome-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-in-a-patient-with-chronic-hypokalaemia/

COVID-19 and Cushing’s syndrome: recommendations for a special population with endogenous glucocorticoid excess

Rosario Pivonello,a,b Rosario Ferrigno,a Andrea M Isidori,c Beverly M K Biller,d Ashley B Grossman,e,f and Annamaria Colaoa,b

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.

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.

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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Because these conditions are observed in most patients with active Cushing’s syndrome, 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. Because patients with Cushing’s syndrome might not mount a normal cytokine response, 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, and because anticoagulation is also recommended in specific conditions in patients with active Cushing’s syndrome, 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, and COVID-19 patients are also at increased risk of secondary bacterial or fungal infections during hospitalisation. Therefore, in cases of COVID-19 during active Cushing’s syndrome, prolonged antiviral treatment and empirical prophylaxis with broad-spectrum antibiotics 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, 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. Because immunosuppression and thromboembolic diathesis are common Cushing’s syndrome features, 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. 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; 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. Because these are features associated with an increased death risk in patients with COVID-19, 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.

Acknowledgments

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.

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Adrenal incidentalomas—do they need follow up?

Are adrenal incidentalomas, which are found by chance on imaging, really harmless? In this paper, the authors looked at 32 studies, including 4121 patients with benign non-functioning adrenal tumours (NFATs) or adenomas that cause mild autonomous cortisol excess (MACE).

Only 2.5% of the tumours grew to a clinically significant extent over a mean follow-up period of 50 months, and no one developed adrenal cancer. Of those patients with NFAT or MACE, 99.9% didn’t develop clinically significant hormone (cortisol) excess. This was a group (especially those with MACE) with a high prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. This could be because adrenal adenomas promote cardiometabolic problems, or vice versa, or maybe this group with multimorbidities is more likely be investigated.

Adrenal incidentalomas are already found in around 1 in 20 abdominal CT scans, and this rate is likely to increase as imaging improves. So it’s good news that this study supports existing recommendations, which say that follow-up imaging in the 90% of incidentalomas that are smaller than 4 cm diameter is unnecessary.

From https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2019/07/03/ann-robinsons-journal-review-3-july-2019/

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