Cushing’s Disease Stresses Your Heart and Your Mental Health

Written by Kathleen Doheny

With Oskar Ragnarsson, MD, PHD, and Tamara Wexler, MD, PhD

Adults with Cushing’s syndrome, also called hypercortisolism, have a three-fold higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to the general population,1 according to findings reported by a Swiss research team. Although the researchers found that the risk drops when patients are under care, receiving treatment, and are in remission, the risks don’t disappear completely.  For some perspective, heart disease is common in the United States, affectingone in four adults, regardless of health status.2

Patients with Cushing’s disease have excess mortality [risk],” says Oskar Ragnarsson, MD, PhD, associate professor and a senior consultant in internal medicine and endocrinology at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. He is the author of the study, which appears in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Having Cushing’s Requires Vigilance Beyond Disease Symptoms

Still, the news is not all bleak, he says. Simple awareness of the increased risks can help individuals reduce their risk, just as following your doctor’s treatment plan so remain in remission, Dr. Ragnarsson tells EndocrineWeb. In addition, patients who received growth hormone replacement appear to have better overall outcomes.1

Cushing’s syndrome occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol over a long period of time. This can be caused either by taking corticosteroid medicine orally, or if your body just makes too much cortisol. Common symptoms of this condition include: having a fatty hump between the shoulders, a rounded face, and stretch marks with pink or purple coloring on the skin. Complications, if Cushing’s disease goes untreated, may include bone loss (leading to increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis), high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other problems. Usual treatment includes medication and surgery that are aimed to normalize cortisol levels.3

Increased Risks Are Cause for Concern in Cushing’s Disease

The researchers analyzed data from 502 men and women, all of whom were diagnosed with Cushing’s disease between 1987 and 2013 as indicated in a Swedish health database.1 The average age of these patients at diagnosis was 43 years, and, 83% of these individuals were in remission. During a median follow up of 13 years—half followed for longer, half followed for less time—the researchers noted 133 deaths, more than the 54 that had been anticipated in this patient population.

From this data,1 Dr. Ragnarsson and his team calculated that people with Cushing’s disease were about 2.5 times more likely to die than the general population. The most common reason, with more than a 3-fold increased risk, was attributed to events associated with cardiovascular disease, encompassing both heart disease and stroke. This group also appeared to have a higher risk of death from infectious and respiratory diseases, and conditions related to gastrointestinal problems.

Fortunately, just being in disease remission helps to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality,1 the researchers’ report, with both men and women whose Cushing’s disease is well-managed having a two-fold lower risk of death during the follow-up period.1 Those in remission who were receiving growth hormone had an even lower risk of death than those on other forms of treatment.

In addition, the researchers looked at the 55 patients with Cushing’s disease who were in remission and also had diabetes, finding that their risks remained the same. In other words, despite a strong relationship between diabetes and increased heart disease, the risks of death were not increased in this group of patients.1

In considering the impact that treatments may have, the researchers found:

  • 3 in 4 of these patients (75%) had undergone pituitary surgery
  • 28% had undergone radiotherapy
  • 1 in 4 (24%) had had both adrenal glands removed

Those who had their adrenal glands removal experienced a 2.7-fold higher risk of death, while those who were treated with radiotherapy or had pituitary surgery did not have an increased risk associated with cardiovascular events. When glucocorticoid therapy was added, it did not affect results, according to Dr. Ragnarsson and his research team.

Bottom line? “Even though patients in remission have a better prognosis than patients not in remission, they still have more than a 2-fold increased mortality [risk],” he says. The study, he says, is the first to uncover a high rate of death from suicide in Cushing’s patients. It has been reported before, but the numbers found in this study were higher than in others.

The findings, he says, emphasize the importance of treating Cushing’s with a goal of remission. Ongoing surveillance and management are crucial, he says. “Also, evaluation and active treatment of cardiovascular risk factors and mental health is of utmost importance,” Dr. Ragnarsson tells EndocrineWeb.

Remission Reduces But Doesn’t Eliminate Serious Risks 

The study findings underscore the message that ”the priority for patients is to achieve biochemical remission,” says Tamara L. Wexler, MD, PhD, director of the NYU Langone Medical Center Pituitary Center, in reviewing the findings for EndocrineWeb.

“One question raised by the study findings is whether patients listed as being in remission were truly in (consistent) remission,” Dr. Wexler says. “One or more of several testing methods may have been used, and the data were based on medical record reviews so we can’t be certain about the status of these patients’ remission. In addition, we don’t know how much excess cortisol patients were exposed over time, which may change their risks.”

I have another concern about the findings, she says. While the method of analysis used in the study suggests that the length of time from diagnosis to remission is not associated with increased death risk, ”it may be that the total exposure to excess cortisol—the amplitude as well as duration—is related to morbidity [illness] and mortality [death] risk.” And, she adds, any negative effects experienced by patients with Cushing’s disease may be reduced further as remission status continues.

In addition, Dr. Wexler considers the authors’ comments that sustained high cortisol levels may impact the cardiovascular system in a way that is chronic and irreversible ”may be overly strong.” She believes that the total cortisol exposure and the duration of remission may both play important roles in patients’ ongoing health.

She does agree, however, with the researchers’ recommendation of the need to treat heart disease risk factors more aggressively in patients with a history of Cushing’s disease. Equally important, is for patients to be warned that there is an increased concern about suicide, she says, urging anyone with Cushing’s disease to raise all of these concerns with your health practitioner.

Overall, the study findings certainly suggest that it is important for you to know that if you have Cushing’s syndrome, you are at increased risk for not just heart disease but also mental health disorders and other ailments than the general population, she says, and that the best course of action is to work closely with your doctor to achieve remission and stick to your overall treatment plan.

Steps to Take to Reduce Your Risks for Heart Disease and Depression

Dr. Ragnarsson suggests those with Cushing’s disease make adjustments as needed to achieve the following risk-reducing strategies:

  • Be sure your food choices meet the parameters of a heart-healthy diet
  • You are getting some kind of physical activity most every day
  • You see your doctor at least once a year to have annual checks of your blood pressure, blood sugar, and other heart disease risk factors.

For those of you receiving cortisone replacement therapy, you should be mindful of the need to have a boost in your medication dose with your doctors’ supervision when you’re are sick or experiencing increased health stresses.

From https://www.endocrineweb.com/news/adrenal-disorders/61675-cushings-disease-stresses-your-heart-your-mental-health

Cushing Syndrome Results in Poor Quality of Life Even After Remission

Functional remission did not occur in most patients with Cushing syndrome who were considered to be in biochemical and clinical remission, according to a study published in Endocrine. This was evidenced by their quality of life, which remained impaired in all domains.

The term “functional remission” is a psychiatric concept that is defined as an “association of clinical remission and a recovery of social, professional, and personal levels of functioning.” In this observational study, investigators sought to determine the specific weight of psychological (anxiety and mood, coping, self-esteem) determinants of quality of life in patients with Cushing syndrome who were considered to be in clinical remission.

The cohort included 63 patients with hypercortisolism currently in remission who completed self-administered questionnaires that included quality of life (WHOQoL-BREF and Cushing QoL), depression, anxiety, self-esteem, body image, and coping scales. At a median of 3 years since remission, participants had a significantly lower quality of life and body satisfaction score compared with the general population and patients with chronic diseases. Of the cohort, 39 patients (61.9%) reported having low or very low self-esteem, while 16 (25.4%) had high or very high self-esteem. Depression and anxiety were seen in nearly half of the patients and they were more depressed than the general population. In addition, 42.9% of patients still needed working arrangements, while 19% had a disability or cessation of work.

Investigators wrote, “This impaired quality of life is strongly correlated to neurocognitive damage, and especially depression, a condition that is frequently confounded with the poor general condition owing to the decreased levels of cortisol. A psychiatric consultation should thus be systematically advised, and [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor] therapy should be discussed.”

Reference

Vermalle M, Alessandrini M, Graillon T, et al.  Lack of functional remission in Cushing’s Syndrome [published online July 17, 2018]. Endocrine. doi:10.1007/s12020-018-1664-7

From https://www.endocrinologyadvisor.com/general-endocrinology/functional-remission-quality-of-life-cushings-syndrome/article/788501/

Metyrapone Reduced Urinary-Free Cortisol Levels in Cushing Syndrome

Metyrapone treatments helped patients with Cushing syndrome reach normal, urinary-free cortisol levels in the short-term and also had long-term benefits, according to a study published in Endocrine.

This observational, longitudinal study evaluated the effects of the 11β -hydroxylase inhibitor metyrapone on adult patients with Cushing syndrome. Urinary-free cortisol and late-night salivary cortisol levels were evaluated in 31 patients who were already treated with metyrapone to monitor cortisol normalization and rhythm.

The average length of metyrapone treatment was 9 months, and 6 patients had 24 months of treatment. After 1 month of treatment, the mean urinary-free cortisol was reduced from baseline by 67% and mean late-night salivary cortisol level decreased by 57%.

Analyzing only patients with severe hypercortisolism, after 1 month of treatment, the mean urinary-free cortisol decreased by 86% and the mean late-night salivary cortisol level decreased 80%. After 3 months, normalization of the mean urinary-free cortisol was established in 68% of patients. Mean late-night salivary cortisol levels took longer to decrease, especially in severe and very severe hypercortisolism, which could take 6 months to drop. Treatment was more successful at normalizing cortisol excretion (70%) than cortisol rhythm (37%). Nausea, abdominal pain, and dizziness were the most common adverse events, but no severe adverse event was reported.

Future research is needed to evaluate a larger cohort with randomized dosages and stricter inclusion criteria to evaluate metyrapone’s effects on cortisol further.

Study researchers conclude that metyrapone was successful and safe in lowering urinary-free cortisol after just 1 month of treatment and controlling long-term levels in patients with Cushing syndrome.

This study was supported by Novartis.

Reference

Ceccato F, Zilio M, Barbot M, et al. Metyrapone treatment in Cushing’s syndrome: a real-life study [published online July 16, 2018]. Endocrine. doi: 10.1007/s12020-018-1675-4

From https://www.endocrinologyadvisor.com/general-endocrinology/metyrapone-cushing-syndrome/article/786716/

Benefits of Medication Before Surgery for Cushing’s Syndrome Still Unclear

In Europe, nearly 20 percent of patients with Cushing’s syndrome receive some sort of medication for the disease before undergoing surgery, a new study shows.

Six months after surgery, these patients had remission and mortality rates similar to those who received surgery as a first-line treatment, despite having worse disease manifestations when the study began. However, preoperative medication may limit doctors’ ability to determine the immediate success of surgery, researchers said.

A randomized clinical trial is needed to conclusively address if preoperative medication is a good option for Cushing’s patients waiting for surgery, they stated.

The study, “Preoperative medical treatment in Cushing’s syndrome. Frequency of use and its impact on postoperative assessment. Data from ERCUSYN,” was published in the European Journal of Endocrinology. 

Surgery usually is the first-line treatment in patients with Cushing’s syndrome. But patients also may receive preoperative medication to improve cortisol excess and correct severe diseases occurring simultaneously with Cushing’s.

Multiple studies have hypothesized that preoperative medication can have a beneficial effect on patients who undergo surgery. However, data on the beneficial impact of medication on morbidity, and the immediate surgical and long-term outcomes in patients with Cushing’s syndrome, are limited and inconclusive.

So, researchers made use of the European Registry on Cushing’s Syndrome (ERCUSYN), the largest database that collects information on diagnosis, management, and long-term follow-up in Cushing’s patients.

The team set out to collect information of the prevalence of preoperative medication in Cushing’s patients throughout Europe, and whether it influences patients’ outcomes after surgery. It also aimed to determine the differences between patients who receive preoperative medication versus those who undergo surgery directly.

Researchers analyzed 1,143 patients in the ERCUSYN database from 57 centers in 26 countries. Depending on what was causing the disease, patients were included in four major groups: pituitary-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (68%), adrenal-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (25%), Cushing’s syndrome from an ectopic source (5%), and Cushing’s syndrome from other causes (1%).

Overall, 20 percent of patients received medication – ketoconazole, metyrapone, or a combination of both – before surgery. Patients with ectopic and pituitary disease were more likely to receive medication compared to patients whose disease stemmed from the adrenal glands. Preoperative treatment lasted for a median of 109 days.

Patients in the pituitary group who were prescribed preoperative medication had more severe clinical features at diagnosis and poorer quality of life compared to those who received surgery as first-line treatment. No differences were found in the other groups.

But patients with pituitary-dependent disease receiving medication were more likely to have normal cortisol within seven days of surgery, or the immediate postoperative period, compared to patients who had surgery without prior medication. These patients also had a lower remission rate.

Within six months of surgery, however, there were no differences in morbidity or remission rates observed between each group. Also, no differences were seen in perioperative mortality rates – within one month of surgery.

Interestingly, researchers noted that patients who took medication prior to surgery were less likely to be in remission immediately after surgery. The reason, they suggest, might be because the medication already had begun to improve the clinical and biochemical signs of the disease, “so changes that take place in the first week after surgery may be less dramatic.”

“A randomized trial assessing simple endpoints, such as length of hospital stay, surgical impression and adverse effects of surgery, is needed to conclusively demonstrate that [preoperative medication] is a valid option in patients waiting for surgical correction of hypercortisolism,” the team concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/02/22/benefits-cushings-syndrome-pre-surgery-medication-unclear-study/

Pregnant Women with Hypertension and Hypercortisolism May Have Cushing’s

Pregnant woman with hypertension and significant signs of hypercortisolism (high cortisol levels) may have Cushing’s disease, according to a new case report.

The report, titled “A Case of Cushing’s Syndrome in Pregnancy,” was published in the Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences.

While Cushing’s rarely occurs in women during pregnancy, high cortisol levels can lead to major complications for both the mother and the fetus, such as premature birth and high fetal mortality.

However, it can be difficult to diagnose pathological hypercortisolism in these women as the symptoms might resemble other diseases that commonly occur during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) and gestational diabetes.

Unfortunately, there are no effective long-term medical therapies for Cushing’s. The most definitive therapy is the surgical removal of the pituitary or adrenal adenoma, if that is the case of hypercortisolism.

The case report details that a 29-year old women in the 27th week of pregnancy presented to the Ghaem Hospital clinic in Mashhad, Iran, with edema, weakness, and hypertension. Her symptoms also included truncal obesity, moon face (her face had a rounded appearance), purple steria on her upper and lower limbs and abdomen, excessive edema, and wet skin.

At first, she was hospitalized for suspected preeclampsia, but the diagnosis was later excluded.

The patient’s hormonal profile showed high levels of 24-hour urine cortisol. There were also low levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which results from a negative feedback due to excessive cortisol. However, plasma cortisol is generally elevated during pregnancy, and therefore may not be the best method for diagnosis.

An abdominal ultrasonography revealed a well-defined mass in the right adrenal gland.

While hospitalized, the patient experienced two crises of blood pressure, and while preeclampsia was ruled out, the physicians could find no more plausible explanation than eclampsia (the onset of seizures in a women with preeclampsia).

Since eclampsia was suspected, the physicians terminated the pregnancy at 28th week of gestation using misoprostol. The woman delivered a male infant weighing 1.94 pounds.

Two days after birth, the physicians conducted a computed tomography (CT) scan and again found a mass in the right adrenal gland.

As a result, the patient underwent a laparoscopic right adrenalectomy to remove the mass one week after giving birth. The patient’s blood pressure normalized and cortisol levels declined. Her condition remained stable after surgery.

“Cushing’s syndrome should be considered in hypertensive pregnant patients with remarkable signs of hypercortisolism,” the researchers concluded. “The best results would be achieved through a collaboration between obstetricians, endocrinologists, and surgeons.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/12/19/pregnant-women-hypertension-hypercortisolism-may-have-cushings-disease/

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