Cushing’s syndrome vs simple obesity. How can a needle be found in the haystack?

Endocrinology Today 02/2015; 4(1):30-35.

Clinical recognition of Cushing’s syndrome should generally follow from the observation of a constellation of compatible clinical features that progress over time. Screening for Cushing’s syndrome in patients with individual features of the metabolic syndrome, such as obesity, hypertension and hyperglycaemia, is not recommended.

Early diagnosis reduces unnecessary suffering and the ultimate lifetime sequelae of Cushing’s syndrome. Confirmation involves the demonstration of biochemical hypercortisolism, and the extent of diagnostic testing needs to be based on the degree of clinical suspicion.
Read the whole article here, in PDF format

Higher Doses of ‘Abortion Pill’ Safe in Cushing’s?

Reviewed by Zalman S. Agus, MD; Emeritus Professor, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

LAS VEGAS — Higher doses of mifepristone for Cushing’s disease (Korlym) weren’t associated with increases in serious adverse events, researchers reported here.

Korlym is a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist better known as RU-486, or the “abortion pill.” It was approved for treating hyperglycemia associated with Cushing’s disease in 2012.

In an analysis of data from the SEISMIC trial, Dat Nguyen, MD, and colleagues found that similar percentages of patients had serious adverse events across all doses of the drug, reported.

They also reported at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists meeting here, that the proportion of the four most common adverse events — headache, fatigue, nausea, and hypokalemia — fell off after 10 weeks of the 24-week trial.

“Recent prescription data indicate that many physicians are not titrating beyond 300 mg per day, potentially limiting patients’ clinical response,” the researchers said.

The 2012 approval was based on the SEISMIC study, which followed 50 Cushing’s disease patients over 24-weeks in an open-label format. It found that daily doses improved blood sugar control and reduced insulin requirements.

Clinicians participating in the trial were told they could titrate beyond the starting dose of 300 mg a day. To look at the relationship between dose and safety, as well as response, Nguyen and colleagues looked at data on 40 of the patients who responded to therapy.

Most of them (90%) were taking at least 600 mg a day, 68% were taking at least 900 mg per day, and 44% took 1,200 mg daily.

Most of the responders (85%) had their initial clinical response at a dose of at least 600 mg daily.

Overall, there were 26 serious adverse events:

  • 10 at the 300 mg dose
  • 8 at the 600 mg dose
  • 3 at the 900 mg dose
  • 3 at the 1200 mg dose
  • 2 while off drug

 

When the researchers adjusted for the number of patients who had ever reached a given dose, the frequency of serious adverse events was similar across doses:

  • 10% of patients at 300 mg
  • 16% of patients at 600 mg
  • 15% of patients at 900 mg
  • 14% of patients at 1200 mg

 

The four most common adverse events decreased after week 10 – although that tracked an increase in dose (mean 588 mg/day before week 10 versus 895 mg/day thereafter).

Nguyen and colleagues concluded that higher doses of mifepristone weren’t associated with increases in serious adverse events or in the most common adverse events – and that better response was seen with higher doses.

Korlym was developed by Corcept Therapeutics of Menlo Park, Calif., as an orphan drug given that it is is believed only 5,000 patients are eligible for treatment. That gave the company 7 years of exclusive rights to market the agent for Cushing’s disease.

The label limits the drug’s indication to patients with endogenous Cushing’s disease who have type 2 diabetes or glucose intolerance and aren’t candidates for surgery, or failed to respond to surgical intervention.

The drug doesn’t reduce cortisol production but prevents it from binding to its receptor – an action separate from its blockade of the progesterone receptor, which makes it an effective agent in abortion.

Since the daily doses are in the same range as those used to induce abortion, the drug is contraindicated in pregnant women. It also carries a boxed warning that the drug will terminate a pregnancy.

From http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/AACE/45790

Think Like a Doctor: Red Herrings Solved!

By LISA SANDERS, M.D.

On Thursday we challenged Well readers to take the case of a 29-year-old woman with an injured groin, a swollen foot and other abnormalities. Many of you found it as challenging as the doctors who saw her. I asked for the right test as well as the right diagnosis. More than 200 answers were posted.

The right test was…

The dexamethasone suppression test,though I counted those of you who suggested measuring the cortisol in the urine.

The right diagnosis was…

Cushing’s disease

More than a dozen of you got the right answer or the right test, but Dr. Davin Quinn, a consultant psychiatrist at the University of New Mexico Hospital, was the first to be right on both counts. As soon as he saw that the patient’s cortisol level was increased, he thought of Cushing’s. And he had treated a young patient like this one some years ago as a second year resident.

The Diagnosis:

Cushing’s disease is caused by having too much of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Cortisol is made in the adrenal glands, little pyramid shaped organs that sit atop the kidneys. It is normally a very tightly regulated hormone that helps the body respond to physical stress.

Sometimes the excess comes from a tumor in the adrenal gland itself that causes the little organ to go into overdrive, making too much cortisol. More often the excess occurs when a tumor in the pituitary gland in the brain results in too much ACTH, the hormone that controls the adrenal gland.

In the body, cortisol’s most fundamental job is to make sure we have enough glucose around to get the body’s work done. To that end, the hormone drives appetite, so that enough fuel is taken in through the food we eat. When needed, it can break muscle down into glucose. This essential function accounts for the most common symptoms of cortisol excess: hyperglycemia, weight gain and muscle wasting. However, cortisol has many functions in the body, and so an excess of the hormone can manifest itself in many different ways.

Cushing’s was first described by Dr. Harvey Cushing, a surgeon often considered the father of modern neurosurgery. In a case report in 1912, he described a 23-year-old woman with sudden weight gain, mostly in the abdomen; stretch marks from skin too thin and delicate to accommodate the excess girth; easy bruising; high blood pressure and diabetes.

Dr. Cushing’s case was, it turns out, a classic presentation of the illness. It wasn’t until 20 years later that he recognized that the disease had two forms. When it is a primary problem of an adrenal gland gone wild and producing too much cortisol on its own, the disease is known as Cushing’s syndrome. When the problem results from an overgrown part of the pituitary making too much ACTH and causing the completely normal adrenal glands to overproduce the hormone, the illness is called Cushing’s disease.

It was an important distinction, since the treatment often requires a surgical resection of the body part where the problem originates. Cushing’s syndrome can also be caused by steroid-containing medications, which are frequently used to treat certain pulmonary and autoimmune diseases.

How the Diagnosis Was Made:

After the young woman got her lab results from Dr. Becky Miller, the hematologist she had been referred to after seeing several other specialists, the patient started reading up on the abnormalities that had been found. And based on what she found on the Internet, she had an idea of what was going on with her body.

“I think I have Cushing’s disease,” the patient told her endocrinologist when she saw him again a few weeks later.

The patient laid out her argument. In Cushing’s, the body puts out too much cortisol, one of the fight-or-flight stress hormones. That would explain her high blood pressure. Just about everyone with Cushing’s disease has high blood pressure.

She had other symptoms of Cushing’s, too. She bruised easily. And she’d been waking up crazy early in the morning for the past year or so – around 4:30 – and couldn’t get back to sleep. She’d heard that too much cortisol could cause that as well. She was losing muscle mass – she used to have well-defined muscles in her thighs and calves. Not any more. Her belly – it wasn’t huge, but it was a lot bigger than it had been. Cushing’s seemed the obvious diagnosis.

The doctor was skeptical. He had seen Cushing’s before, and this patient didn’t match the typical pattern. She was the right age for Cushing’s and she had high blood pressure, but nothing else seemed to fit. She wasn’t obese. Indeed, she was tall (5- foot-10) and slim (150 pounds) and athletic looking. She didn’t have stretch marks; she didn’t have diabetes. She said she bruised easily, but the endocrinologist saw no bruises on exam. Her ankle was still swollen, and Cushing’s can do that, but so can lots of other diseases.

The blood tests that Dr. Miller ordered measuring the patient’s ACTH and cortisol levels were suggestive of the disease, but many common problems — depression, alcohol use, eating disorders — can cause the same result. Still, it was worth taking the next step: a dexamethasone suppression test.

Testing, Then Treatment:

The dexamethasone suppression test depends on a natural negative feedback loop whereby high levels of cortisol suppress further secretion of the hormone. Dexamethasone is an artificial form of cortisol. Given in high doses, it will cause the level of naturally-occurring cortisol to drop dramatically.

The patient was told to take the dexamethasone pills the night before having her blood tested. The doctor called her the next day.

“Are you sure you took the pills I gave you last night?” the endocrinologist asked her over the phone. The doctor’s voice sounded a little sharp to the young woman, tinged with a hint of accusation.

“Of course I took them,” she responded, trying to keep her voice clear of any irritation.

“Well, the results are crazy,” he told her and proposed she take another test: a 24-hour urine test.

Because cortisol is eliminated through the kidneys, collecting a full day’s urine would show how much cortisol her body was making. So the patient carefully collected a day’s worth of urine.

A few days later, the endocrinologist called again: her cortisol level was shockingly high. She was right, the doctor conceded, she really did have Cushing’s.

An M.R.I. scan revealed a tiny tumor on her pituitary. A couple of months later, she had surgery to remove the affected part of the gland.

After recovering from the surgery, the patient’s blood pressure returned to normal, as did her red blood cell count and her persistently swollen ankle. And she was able to once again sleep through the night.

Red Herrings Everywhere:

As many readers noted, there were lots of findings that didn’t really add up in this case. Was this woman’s groin sprain part of the Cushing’s? What about the lower extremity swelling, and the excess red blood cell count?

In the medical literature, there is a single case report of high red blood cell counts as the presenting symptom in a patient with Cushing’s. And with this patient, the problem resolved after her surgery – so maybe they were linked.

And what about the weird bone marrow biopsy? The gastritis? The enlarged spleen? It’s hard to say for certain if any of these problems was a result of the excess cortisol or if she just happened to have other medical problems.

Why the patient didn’t have the typical symptoms of Cushing’s is easier to explain. She was very early in the course of the disease when she got her diagnosis. Most patients are diagnosed once symptoms have become more prominent

By the time this patient had her surgery, a couple of months later, the round face and belly characteristic of cortisol excess were present. Now, two years after her surgery, none of the symptoms remain.

From http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/think-like-a-doctor-red-herrings-solved/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Pasireotide for the treatment of Cushing’s disease

Posted online on June 17, 2013. (doi:10.1517/21678707.2013.807731)

Annamaria Colao Chiara Simeoli Monica De Leo Alessia Cozzolino Rosario Pivonello

Department of Clinical Medicine and Surgery, Section of Endocrinology, Federico II University, Via Sergio Pansini 5,

80131 Naples

, Italy +39 0817462132; +39 0815465443; colao@unina.it

Author for correspondence

Introduction: Pasireotide, a novel multireceptor targeted somatostatin analog is the first drug approved for treatment of adult patients with Cushing’s disease (CD) for whom pituitary surgery is not an option or has not been curative.

Areas covered: The review describes published data on efficacy and safety of pasireotide in CD patients. In particular, the review focuses on a Phase III study (CSOM230B2305) evaluating the outcomes of treatment with pasireotide at the doses of 600 and 900 µg twice daily for 12 months in 162 CD patients. This clinical trial reported a decrease in urinary free cortisol levels in the majority of patients, with a substantial reduction in nearly half and a normalization in > 25% of patients included in the study, accompanied by an improvement in clinical picture as well as a significant reduction in pituitary tumor size. Hyperglycemia appears as the most important side effect, requiring a careful monitoring and a prompt administration of glucose-lowering medications.

Expert opinion: Pasireotide seems to have a promising role as medical option for CD patients who experienced a failure or not candidate for neurosurgery; its employment will probably induce in the near future significant changes in the therapeutic approach to CD.

Read More: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1517/21678707.2013.807731

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