Cushing’s Syndrome Patients at More Risk of Blood-clotting Problems After Adrenal Surgery

Cushing’s syndrome patients who undergo adrenal surgery are more likely to have venous thromboembolism — blood clots that originate in the veins — than patients who have the same procedure for other conditions, a study suggests.

Physicians should consider preventive treatment for this complication in Cushing’s syndrome patients who are having adrenal surgery and maintain it for four weeks after surgery due to late VTE onset.

The study, “Is VTE Prophylaxis Necessary on Discharge for Patients Undergoing Adrenalectomy for Cushing Syndrome?” was published in the Journal of Endocrine Society.

Cushing’s syndrome is a condition characterized by too much cortisol in circulation. In many cases, it is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, which produces greater amounts of the cortisol-controlling adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). In other cases, patients have tumors in the adrenal glands that directly increase cortisol production.

When the source of the problem is the pituitary gland, the condition is known as Cushing’s disease.

The imbalance in cortisol levels generates metabolic complications that include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular complications. Among the latter, the formation of blood clots in the deep veins of the leg, groin or arm — a condition called venous thromboembolism (VTE) — is higher in both Cushing’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome patients.

VTE is believed to be a result of excess coagulation factors that promote blood clot formation, and is thought to particularly affect Cushing’s disease patients who have pituitary gland surgery.

Whether Cushing’s syndrome patients who have an adrenalectomy — surgical removal of one or both adrenal glands — are at a higher risk for VTE is largely unknown. This is important for post-operative management, to decide whether they should have preventive treatment for blood clot formation.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland did a retrospective analysis of a large group of patients in the American College of Surgeons National Quality Improvement Program database.

A total of 8,082 patients underwent adrenal gland surgery between 2005 and 2016. Data on these patients included preoperative risk factors, as well as 30-day post-surgery mortality and morbidity outcomes. Patients with malignant disease and without specified adrenal pathology were excluded from the study.

The final analysis included 4,217 patients, 61.8% of whom were females. In total, 310 patients had Cushing’s syndrome or Cushing’s disease that required an adrenalectomy. The remaining 3,907 had an adrenal disease other than Cushing’s and were used as controls.

The incidence of VTE after surgery — defined as pulmonary embolism (a blockage of an artery in the lungs) or deep-vein thrombosis — was 1% in the overall population. However, more Cushing’s patients experienced this complication (2.6%) than controls (0.9%).

Those diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome were generally younger, had a higher body mass index, and were more likely to have diabetes than controls. Their surgery also lasted longer — 191.2 minutes versus 142 minutes — as did their hospital stay – 2.4 versus two days.

Although without statistical significance, the researchers observed a tendency for longer surgery time for patients with Cushing’s syndrome than controls with VTE. They saw no difference in the time for blood coagulation between Cushing’s and non-Cushing’s patients, or postoperative events other than pulmonary embolism or deep-vein thrombosis.

In addition, no differences were detected for VTE incidence between Cushing’s and non-Cushing’s patients according to the type of surgical approach — laparoscopic versus open surgery.

These results suggest that individuals with Cushing syndrome are at a higher risk for developing VTE.

“Because the incidence of VTE events in the CS group was almost threefold higher than that in the non-CS group and VTE events occurred up to 23 days after surgery in patients with CS undergoing adrenalectomy, our data support postdischarge thromboprophylaxis for 28 days in these patients,” the researchers concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/02/14/cushings-syndrome-patients-blood-clots-adrenal-surgery/

Active Cushing’s disease is characterized by increased adipose tissue macrophage presence

Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism — Lee IT, et al. | February 07, 2019

Using immunohistochemistry, researchers determined whether adipose tissue (AT) inflammation in humans is associated with chronic endogenous glucocorticoid (GC) exposure due to Cushing’s disease (CD).

Abdominal subcutaneous AT samples were evaluated for macrophage infiltration and mRNA expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines in 10 patients with active CD and 10 age, gender and BMI- matched healthy subjects.

The presence of AT macrophages, a hallmark of AT inflammation, increases chronic exposure to GCs due to CD. AT inflammation can, therefore, be the source of systemic inflammation in these patients, which in turn can contribute to obesity, insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. In patients with CD, PCR showed no differences in mRNA expression of any analyzed markers.

Read the full article on Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism

Cushing’s Patient Exhibits Cortisol-Secreting Lesions in Both Adrenal Glands

In rare cases, Cushing’s syndrome may be caused by cortisol-secreting masses in both adrenal glands, a case report shows.

The study with that finding, “ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome with bilateral cortisol-secreting adrenal adenomas: a case report and review of literatures” was published in BMC Endocrine Disorders.

Cushing’s syndrome results from the prolonged secretion of excess cortisol. While most cases are caused by tumors in the pituitary gland, up to 20 percent result from tumors in the adrenal glands.

Occasionally, Cushing’s syndrome is caused by masses in both adrenal glands, which may be similar or display different properties. “Determining the nature and function of bilateral adrenal masses is always a challenge in clinical practice,” researchers said.

Now, physicians at Sichuan University in China, reported the case of a 55-year-old woman who complained of difficulty breathing for more than 10 years.

The patient had developed obesity of the trunk and face over the past two years, and had been diagnosed with hypertension 10 years before. She also had high lipid levels for the past five years.

The patient was taking Avapro (irbesartan), Lopressor (metoprolol), Procardia XL (nifedipine), and statins for these disorders. No other health conditions or treatments were reported.

Physical examination showed a moon-shaped face, truncal obesity, and accumulation of fat in the back of the neck and upper back (aka buffalo hump). She also had discoloration of the lower limbs, with slight fluid accumulation and muscle weakness.

Routine blood analysis did not reveal significant changes, but hormone analysis showed high cortisol levels and low adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) was low.

The amount of 24-hour urine-free cortisol was almost five times higher than the upper normal limit. Also, the patients had reduced response to corticosteroids treatment, showing even higher cortisol levels upon treatment with 1 mg dexamethasone. Additional evaluations revealed reduced bone mineral density, indicative of osteoporosis.

Together, the findings led to a diagnosis of ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome.

To identify what was causing Cushing’s syndrome, the team looked at the adrenal glands. They detected three lesions, one on the right side measuring 2.5 centimeters, and two on the left side, with 2.3 cm and 0.6 cm respectively. The masses in both sides were actively producing cortisol in similar proportions.

These results confirmed that the patient had Cushing’s syndrome induced by bilateral adrenal excessive cortisol secretion.

Because the patient had poor cardiac function, researchers planned a two-step operation. First, they removed the right adrenal gland laparoscopically, followed by the left adrenal gland two months later. The patient started replacement therapy with hydrocortisone, and her cortisol levels improved significantly, returning to normal levels. She also lost 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of body weight in the following year.

“The optimal treatment for patients with bilateral cortisol-secreting adenomas remains uncertain,” the researchers wrote. Although there are no reports of recurrence after surgical treatment, the long-term outcome of these patients remains unclear, and “lifelong follow-up of the patient is required,” they added.

Bilateral cortisol-secreting adrenal adenomas are rare, having been reported in only 15 other studies, the team wrote. Interestingly, some features reported in this study also were identified by other researchers, including the fact that bilateral cortisol-secreting adrenal lesions are more predominantly found in females during adulthood. Also, the size of the lesions commonly range between 1 to 5 centimeters when detected, and appear at approximately the same time in both adrenal glands.

Although there are no treatment guidelines for these cases, surgical removal of the lesions or adrenal glands, plus glucocorticoid replacement therapy, is the mostly used therapeutic approach. Importantly, the researchers noted that patients who underwent partial gland removal were able to withdraw from glucocorticoid replacement therapy during follow-up.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/05/03/cushings-patient-has-cortisol-secreting-lesions-in-both-adrenal-glands/

Doctors Use Microwave Therapy on Cushing’s Patient Too Weak to Have Surgery

Microwave therapy improved the Cushing’s syndrome of a woman whose lungs had almost failed, allowing her to have the adrenal surgery needed to control her disease, a case study showed.

Lung infections had led to her near-respiratory failure.

Cushing’s syndrome stems from the pituitary gland producing excessive amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone. Too much of the hormone leads to the adrenal glands generating excessive amounts of another hormone, cortisol — and that overproduction results in Cushing’s. The disease’s symptoms include increasing obesity, skin problems, muscle weakness, bone loss, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, and an inability to control emotions.

Doctors often remove patients’ adrenal glands to prevent cortisol production. But in this case, the patient was not in good enough condition to have the surgery. So doctors used microwave technology to reduce her cortisol levels to the point where surgeons could operate.

The case study, published in BMJ Case Reports, was titled “Ectopic ACTH syndrome complicated by multiple opportunistic infections treated with percutaneous ablation of the adrenal glands.

Excessive pituitary gland production of adrenocorticotropic hormone is the cause of 80 percent of Cushing’s cases.

In 5 to 10 percent of cases, a tumor in another part of the body also produces the hormone, leading to excessive amounts of it in the body. When a tumor is generating the hormone, the condition is called ectopic ACTH syndrome. The patient in the case study had ACTH syndrome.

The 63-year-old woman had complained to her family doctor about weight gain, headache, weakness, and flushing. When laboratory tests led to her being diagnosed with ectopic ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome, she was admitted to a hospital’s internal medicine department.

Doctors planned surgery to remove her adrenal glands, but two days before the operation was scheduled, respiratory failure sent her to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. There, physicians treated her for two infections in her lungs, plus infections in her blood and urinary tract. She experienced serious medical complications while in the Intensive Care Unit.

After a month, she was in good enough condition to leave intensive chair but too frail for surgery. Instead, doctors used microwaves to destroy as much of her adrenal glands as they could.

Within two weeks, her condition was better. She had been unable to leave her hospital bed while in intensive care. After the microwave treatment, she engaged in physiotherapy that led to her being able to use a two-wheeled walker to go short distances. She could also make short excursions outside the hospital with her family.

Six months later she returned to the hospital for surgical removal of her adrenal glands.

There were no complications from the operation, and doctors discharged her two days later. Her cortisol levels have been at acceptable levels since then.

“Our experience demonstrates that percutaneous ablation is a viable alternative in patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome in whom medical therapy has failed and surgical adrenalectomy is not feasible,” the researchers wrote. “Further research comparing the efficacy and complication rates between percutaneous ablation [microwave therapy] and surgical adrenalectomy is needed.” In addition, “research is needed to determine the optimal method of percutaneous intervention,” the team wrote.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/12/01/case-study-shows-microwave-therapy-helped-cushings-patient-who-was-too-frail-for-surgery/

The Challenge of Obesity in Diagnosing Cushing’s Syndrome and Strategies to Improve Methods

The effects of obesity on the diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome and strategies to alter the traditional approaches have been addressed in a new review study.

The study, “Diagnosis and Differential Diagnosis of Cushing’s Syndrome,” appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine. The author was Dr. Lynn D. Loriaux, MD and PhD, and a professor of medicine at the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition at the School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), in Portland, Oregon.

Traditionally, exams of patients with glucocorticoid excess focused on the presence of changes in anabolism (the chemical synthesis of molecules). Given the increase in obesity in the general population, changes in anabolism can no longer distinguish Cushing’s syndrome from metabolic syndrome.

However, analyses of anti-anabolic changes of cortisol – including osteopenia (lower bone density), thin skin, and ecchymoses (injury that causes subcutaneous bleeding) – are an effective way to make this distinction.

The worldwide prevalence of metabolic syndrome in obese people is estimated at about 10%. Conversely, the incidence of undiagnosed Cushing’s syndrome is about 75 cases per 1 million people.

Cushing’s and metabolic syndrome share significant clinical similarities, including obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, “making the diagnosis is the least certain aspect in the care of patients with [Cushing’s],” Loriaux wrote.

Regarding a physical examination, patients with osteoporosis, reduced skin thickness in the middle finger, and three or more ecchymoses larger than 1 cm in diameter and not associated with trauma are more likely to have Cushing’s. Researchers estimate the probability of people with all three of these symptoms having Cushing’s syndrome is 95%.

Measuring 24-hour urinary-free cortisol levels allows the assessment of excess glucocorticoid effects, typical of Cushing’s syndrome. The test, which should be done with the most stringent techniques available, averages the augmented secretion of cortisol in the morning and the diminished secretion in the afternoon and at night.

Dexamethasone suppression is one of the currently used screening tests for Cushing’s syndrome. Patients with obesity and depression should not show decreased plasma cortisol levels when dexamethasone is suppressed. However, given its low estimated predictive value (the proportion of positive results that are “true positives”), “this test should not influence what the physician does next and should no longer be used” to screen for Cushing’s, the author wrote.

Some patients may show evidence of Cushing’s syndrome at a physical examination, but low urinary free cortisol excretion. This may be due to glucocorticoids being administered to the patient. In this case, the glucocorticoid must be identified and discontinued. Periodic Cushing’s assessments that measure urinary free cortisol should be performed.

The opposite can also occur: no clinical symptoms of Cushing’s, but elevated urinary free cortisol excretion and detectable plasma levels of the hormone corticotropin. In these patients, the source of corticotropin secretion, which can be a tumor or the syndrome of generalized glucocorticoid resistance, must be determined.

The disease process can be corticotropin-dependent or independent, depending on whether the hormone is detectable. Corticotropin in Cushing’s syndrome can come from the pituitary gland (eutopic) or elsewhere in the body (ectopic).

Loriaux recommends that the source of corticotropin secretion be determined before considering surgery. Up to 40% of patients with pituitary adenomas have nonfunctioning tumors (the tumor does not produce any hormones) and the corticotropin source is elsewhere. If misdiagnosed, patients will likely undergo an unnecessary surgery, with a mortality rate of 1%.

Patients with an ectopic source of corticotropin should undergo imaging studies in the chest, followed by abdominal and pelvic organs. If these tests fail to detect the source, patients should undergo either the blockade of cortisol synthesis or an adrenalectomy (removal of adrenal glands).

However, corticotropin-independent Cushing’s is usually caused by a benign adrenal tumor that uniquely secretes cortisol.

“Such tumors can be treated successfully with laparoscopic adrenalectomy,” Loriaux wrote. If the tumor secretes more than one hormone, it is likely malignant. Surgical to remove the tumor and any detectable metastases should be conducted.

Overall, “the treatment for all causes of [Cushing’s syndrome], other than exogenous glucocorticoids, is surgical, and neurosurgeons, endocrine surgeons, and cancer surgeons are needed,” Loriaux wrote in the study.

“This level of multidisciplinary medical expertise is usually found only at academic medical centers. Thus, most, if not all, patients with [Cushing’s syndrome] should be referred to such a center for treatment.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/10/24/diagnosing-cushings-syndrome-amid-challenge-of-obesity-and-strategies-to-improve-methods/

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