Blood Lipid Levels Linked to High Blood Pressure in Cushing’s Disease Patients

High lipid levels in the blood may lead to elevated blood pressure in patients with Cushing’s disease, a Chinese study shows.

The study, “Evaluation of Lipid Profile and Its Relationship with Blood Pressure in Patients with Cushing’s Disease,” appeared in the journal Endocrine Connections.

Patients with Cushing’s disease often have chronic hypertension, or high blood pressure, a condition that puts them at risk for cardiovascular disease. While the mechanisms of Cushing’s-related high blood pressure are not fully understood, researchers believe that high levels of cortisol lead to chronic hypertension through increased cardiac output, vascular resistance, and reactivity to blood vessel constrictors.

In children and adults with Cushing’s syndrome, the relationship between increased cortisol levels and higher blood pressure has also been reported. Patients with Cushing’s syndrome may remain hypertensive even after surgery to lower their cortisol levels, suggesting their hypertension is caused by changes in blood vessels.

Studies have shown that Cushing’s patients have certain changes, such as increased wall thickness, in small arteries. The renin-angiotensin system, which can be activated by glucocorticoids like cortisol, is a possible factor contributing to vascular changes by increasing the uptake of LDL-cholesterol (LDL-C) — the “bad” cholesterol — in vascular cells.

Prior research showed that lowering cholesterol levels could benefit patients with hypertension and normal lipid levels by decreasing the stiffness of large arteries. However, the link between blood lipids and hypertension in Cushing’s disease patients is largely unexplored.

The study included 84 patients (70 women) referred to a hospital in China for evaluation and diagnosis of Cushing’s disease. For each patient, researchers measured body mass index, blood pressure, lipid profile, and several other biomarkers of disease.

Patients with high LDL-cholesterol had higher body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and apolipoproteinB (apoB), a potential indicator of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Data further revealed an association between blood pressure and lipid profile, including cholesterol, triglycerides, apoB and LDL-c. “The results strongly suggested that CHO (cholesterol), LDL-c and apoB might predict hypertension more precisely in [Cushing’s disease],” the scientists wrote.

They further add that high cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and apoB might be contributing to high blood pressure by increasing vessel stiffness.

Additional analysis showed that patients with higher levels of “bad” cholesterol — 3.37 mmol/L or higher — had higher blood pressure. This finding remained true, even when patients were receiving statins to lower their cholesterol levels.

No association was found between blood pressure and plasma cortisol, UFC, adrenocorticotropic hormone, or glucose levels in Cushing’s disease patients.

These findings raise some questions on whether lipid-lowering treatment for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease would be beneficial for Cushing’s disease patients. Further studies addressing this question are warranted.

Adapted from https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/04/24/blood-pressure-linked-lipid-levels-cushings-disease-study/

Cushing’s Patients at Risk for Autoimmune Diseases After Condition Is Resolved

Children with Cushing’s syndrome are at risk of developing new autoimmune and related disorders after being cured of the disease, a new study shows.

The study, “Incidence of Autoimmune and Related Disorders After Resolution of Endogenous Cushing Syndrome in Children,” was published in Hormone and Metabolic Research.

Patients with Cushing’s syndrome have excess levels of the hormone cortisol, a corticosteroid that inhibits the effects of the immune system. As a result, these patients are protected from autoimmune and related diseases. But it is not known if the risk rises after their disease is resolved.

To address this, researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) examined 127 children with Cushing’s syndrome at the National Institutes of Health from 1997 until 2017.

Among the participants, 77.5 percent had a pituitary tumor causing the disease, 21.7 percent had ACTH-independent disease, and one patient had ectopic Cushing’s syndrome. All patients underwent surgery to treat their symptoms.

After a mean follow-up of 31.2 months, 7.8 percent of patients developed a new autoimmune or related disorder.

Researchers found no significant differences in age at diagnosis, gender, cortisol levels, and urinary-free cortisol at diagnosis, when comparing those who developed autoimmune disorders with those who didn’t. However, those who developed an immune disorder had a significantly shorter symptom duration of Cushing’s syndrome.

This suggests that increased cortisol levels, even for a short period of time, may contribute to more reactivity of the immune system after treatment.

The new disorder was diagnosed, on average, 9.8 months after Cushing’s treatment. The disorders reported were celiac disease, psoriasis, Hashimoto thyroiditis, Graves disease, optic nerve inflammation, skin hypopigmentation/vitiligo, allergic rhinitis/asthma, and nerve cell damage of unknown origin responsive to glucocorticoids.

“Although the size of our cohort did not allow for comparison of the frequency with the general population, it seems that there was a higher frequency of optic neuritis than expected,” the researchers stated.

It is still unclear why autoimmune disorders tend to develop after Cushing’s resolution, but the researchers hypothesized it could be a consequence of the impact of glucocorticoids on the immune system.

Overall, the study shows that children with Cushing’s syndrome are at risk for autoimmune and related disorders after their condition is managed. “The presentation of new autoimmune diseases or recurrence of previously known autoimmune conditions should be considered when concerning symptoms arise,” the researchers stated.

Additional studies are warranted to further explore this link and improve care of this specific population.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/06/after-cushings-cured-autoimmune-disease-risk-looms-study/

Pituitary Gland Resection May Help Manage Presumed Cushing’s Patients

 

The surgical removal of two-thirds of the pituitary gland is associated with high initial remission rates and low operative morbidity in patients with suspected Cushing’s disease, when no tumor is found on the gland during surgical exploration.

Cushing’s disease (CD) is caused by increased levels of glucocoticosteroids, such as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), circulating in the blood.

In nearly 70 percent of cases this happens as a result of benign tumors on the pituitary gland, which produce excess ACTH. In these patients, the most effective and first-line treatment is surgical removal of the pituitary gland tumor.

During the diagnostic stage, clinicians use several methods to identify and localize the source of excessive ACTH. But these methods can fail, and the presence of a tumor in the pituitary is not always confirmed. If the tumor remains unidentified during surgical exploration, it falls to the surgeon’s discretion about how to manage their patients.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine provided an overview of their experience on the management of patients with presumed Cushing’s disease who underwent surgical treatment.

The study, “Negative surgical exploration in patients with Cushing’s disease: benefit of two-thirds gland resection on remission rate and a review of the literature,” was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

“The diagnosis and treatment of CD is one of the most challenging entities that pituitary neurosurgeons, endocrinologists, and pathologists face,” the researchers wrote. “The ability to make a correct diagnosis and deliver a high likelihood of remission after surgery relies heavily on the performance of a meticulous workup and rational surgical strategy.”

The team retrospectively analyzed all cases that had been referred to the Department of Neurosurgery of CU School of Medicine between 1989 and 2011 for a potential ACTH-secreting pituitary tumor.

During this period, 161 cases of Cushing’s patients who underwent surgical tumor resection were reported. In 22 patients, the surgeon was unable to detect a tumor.

In these cases the surgical team decided to remove two-thirds of the gland, with resection of the lateral and inferior portions of the pituitary. All 22 patients were treated using a consistent technique performed by a single surgeon.

Posterior tissue analysis confirmed that six of these patients had pituitary ACTH-secreting tumors. In the remaining 16 patients, no tumor was identified. In three patients the team believed that overproduction of ACTH could be due to an overgrowth of ACTH-secreting cells rather than expansion.

The team believes that these findings underscore the difficulty of accurately diagnosing very small pituitary tumors pre- and post-operatively.

The 22 patients were followed for a mean time of 98.9 months, or 8.2 years. No remissions were observed in the six patients who had ACTH-secreting tumors or in 12 of the remaining patients. Blood analysis in follow-up exams confirmed these patients had normal levels of glucocoticosteroids.

Four patients continued to show persistent elevated amounts of ACTH. Additional clinical evaluations revealed that two patients had ACTH-secreting lung tumors, and one patient was suspected of having an ACTH-secreting tumor on a brain region close to the pituitary. There was one case where the clinical team was unable to identify the origin of elevated ACTH.

Only three patients required hormone replacement after the two-thirds gland removal to overcome a newly detected hormone deficit. The approach used by the surgical team was, overall, found to be safe with no severe side effects reported.

“Currently, when the neurosurgeon is faced with the inability to identify a discrete adenoma intraoperatively, there is little uniformity in the literature as to how to proceed,” the team wrote. “We believe this [pituitary resection] approach will be useful to help guide surgeons in the operative treatment of this particularly difficult group of patients.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/12/14/pituitary-gland-resection-may-help-presumed-cushings-disease-patients/

ACTH-producing Lung Tumors Hard to Detect, But May Be Cured with Surgery

Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome can be challenging to diagnose, especially when it comes identifying the problem source. But appropriate hormone management protocols, used in combination with advanced imaging methods, may help physicians identify ectopic ACTH-producing tumors.

The findings in a case report of a young man with ectopic Cushing’s syndrome were published in the International Journal of Surgery Case Reports, under the title “Case report: Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome in a young male with hidden lung carcinoid tumor.”

Cushing’s syndrome is caused by high amounts of glucocoticosteroids in the blood. The most common cause is a malfunction of the glands that produce these hormones. In some cases, however, the disease may be caused by tumors elsewhere in the body that have the ability to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

In half of all Cushing’s patients, ectopic ACTH is produced by small lung cell carcinomas or lung carcinoids (a type of slow-growing lung cancer). But some tumors in the thymus and pancreas also have been found to produce ACTH.

Researchers at Damascus University Hospital in Syria presented the case of a 26-year-old man who had ectopic Cushing’s syndrome due to lung carcinoids.

The patient presented with increased appetite and rapid weight gain for more than a year. These were associated with headache, fatigue, proximal muscle weakness, and easy bruising. He had no family history of hormonal disorder.

Based on the initial physical and symptom evaluation, the clinical team suspected Cushing’s syndrome. Blood analysis revealed high levels of cortisol and ACTH hormones, which supported the diagnosis.

Administration of dexamethasone, a treatment used to inhibit the production of glucocoticosteroids by the pituitary gland, reduced cortisol levels within normal range, but not ACTH levels. This led to the diagnosis of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome.

The next step was to identify the tumor causing the syndrome. The team conducted imaging studies of the brain, chest, and abdomen, but found no tumor.

Because ectopic ACTH is commonly produced by lung cancers, the team then analyzed the patient’s lungs. Again, they failed to detect a tumor.

The patient was discharged with prescription of 200 mg of Nizoral (ketoconazole) once-daily, calcium, and vitamin D. After three months of treatment, he remained stable, with no evidence of symptom improvement.

At this point, the team decided to surgically remove both adrenal glands in an attempt to reduce the hormone levels. Treatment with prednisolone 5 mg and fludrocortisone 0.1 mg once daily was initiated, along with calcium and vitamin D.

Eighteen months later, the patient’s condition worsened and he required hospitalization.

Imaging tests targeting the neck, chest, and abdomen were conducted again. This time, physicians detected a 2 cm mass in the middle lobe of the right lung, which was removed surgically. Detailed analysis of the small tumor confirmed that it was the source of the excessive ACTH.

“ACTH secreting tumors can be very hard to detect,” the researchers stated. “Initial failed localization is common in ectopic ACTH syndrome and it is usually due to carcinoid.”

Cases where the ectopic ACTH production is caused by a carcinoid tumor can be challenging to diagnose because tumors are small and relatively slow-growing. Imaging data is often hard to analyze and the tumors can be confused with pulmonary vessels, the researchers explained.

“In such cases we should first aim to lower blood cortisol medically or through bilateral adrenalectomy to avoid Cushing’s complications,” which should then “be followed up through imaging studies (CT, MRI, scintigraphy or PET) to detect the tumor and resect it, which is the definitive treatment of these patients,” the researchers concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/12/12/case-report-ectopic-acth-producing-lung-tumors-can-hard-detect/

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
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