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  1. This month marks a little over one year since the first surge of COVID-19 across the United States. April is also Adrenal Insufficiency Awareness month, a good time to review the data on how COVID-19 infection can impact the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands make hormones to help regulate blood pressure and the ability to respond to stress. The hormones include steroids such as glucocorticoid (cortisol), mineralocorticoid (aldosterone), and forms of adrenaline known as catecholamines (norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine). The activity of the adrenal gland is controlled through its relationship with the pituitary gland (the master regulator of hormones in the body). Some common adrenal diseases include the following: Addison’s Disease (where the body attacks the adrenal glands making them dysfunctional) Hyperaldosteronism Cushing’s Syndrome Pheochromocytoma Adrenal Nodules/Masses (termed incidentaloma) Congenital adrenal hyperplasia COVID-19 was found in the adrenal and pituitary glands of some patients who succumbed to the illness, suggesting that these organs might be among the targets for infection. One of the first highly effective therapies for COVID-19 infection was the use of IV steroid (dexamethasone) supplementation in hospitalized patients in patients requiring oxygen. A focused search of COVID-19-related health literature shows 85 peer-reviewed papers that have been published in medical literature specifically on the adrenal gland and COVID-19. This literature focuses on three phases of COVID infection that may impact the adrenal gland: the acute active infection phase, the immediate post-infection phase, and the long-term recovery phase. Medical research has identified that during the acute active infection, the adrenal system is one of the most heavily affected organ systems in the body in patients who have COVID-19 infection requiring hospitalization. In these cases, supplementation with the steroid dexamethasone serves as one of the most powerful lifesaving treatments. Concern has also been raised regarding the period of time just after the acute infection phase – particularly, the development of adrenal insufficiency following cases of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Additionally, some professional societies recommend that for patients who have adrenal insufficiency and are on adrenal replacement therapy, they be monitored closely post-COVID-19 vaccine for the development of stress-induced adrenal insufficiency. In mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases, there does not seem to be an effect on adrenaline-related hormones (norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine). However, in cases of severe COVID-19 infection triggering the development of shock, patients will need supplementation with an infusion of catecholamines and a hormone called vasopressin to maintain their blood pressure. Finally, some studies have addressed the concern of adrenal insufficiency during the long-term recovery phase. Dr Sara Bedrose, adrenal endocrine specialist at Baylor College of Medicine, indicates that studies which included adrenal function in COVID survivors showed a large percentage of patients with suboptimal cortisol secretion during what is called ACTH stimulation testing. Results indicated that most of those cases had central adrenal insufficiency. It was concluded that adrenal insufficiency might be among the long-term consequences of COVID-19 and it seemed to be secondary to pituitary gland inflammation (called hypophysitis) or due to direct hypothalamic damage. Long-term follow-up of COVID 19 survivors will be necessary to exclude a gradual and late-onset adrenal insufficiency. Some patients who have COVID-19 will experience prolonged symptoms. To understand what is happening to them, patients may question whether or not they have a phenomenon called adrenal fatigue. This is a natural question to ask, especially after having such a severe health condition. A tremendous amount of resources are being developed to investigate the source and treatment of the symptoms, and this work has only just begun. However, adrenal fatigue is not a real medical diagnosis. It’s a term to describe a group of signs and symptoms that arise due to underactive adrenal glands. Current scientific data indicate that adrenal fatigue is not in and of itself a medical disease – although a variety of over-the-counter supplements and compounded medications may be advocated for in treatment by alternative medicine/naturopathic practitioners. My takeaway is that we have learned a great deal about the effects COVID-19 infection has on the adrenal glands. Long-term COVID-19 remains an area to be explored – especially in regards to how it may affect the adrenal glands. -By Dr. James Suliburk, associate professor of surgery in the Division of Surgical Oncology and section chief of endocrine surgery for the Thyroid and Parathyroid Center at Baylor College of Medicine From https://blogs.bcm.edu/2021/04/22/how-does-covid-19-impact-the-adrenal-gland/
  2. The treatment of adrenal insufficiency with hydrocortisone granules in children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) was associated with an absence of adrenal crises and normal growth patterns over a 2-year period, according to study findings published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The study included a total of 17 children with CAH and 1 child with hypopituitarism. All included participants were <6 years old who were receiving current adrenocortical replacement therapy, including hydrocortisone with or without fludrocortisone. Hydrocortisone medications used in this population were converted from pharmacy compounded capsules to hydrocortisone granules without changing the dose. These study participants were followed by study investigators for 2 years. Glucocorticoid replacement therapy was given three times a day for a median treatment duration of 795 days. Treatment was adjusted by 3 monthly 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-OHP) profiles in children with CAH. There were a 150 follow-up visits throughout the study. At each visit, participants underwent assessments that measured hydrocortisone dose, height, weight, pubertal status, adverse events, and incidence of adrenal crisis. A total of 40 follow-up visits had changes in hydrocortisone doses based on salivary measurements (n=32) and serum 17-OHP levels (n=8). At time of study entry, the median daily doses of hydrocortisone were 11.9 mg/m2 for children between the ages of 2 to 8 years, 9.9 mg/m2 for children between 1 month and 2 years, and 12.0 mg/m2 for children <28 days of age. At the end of the study, the respective doses for the 3 age groups were 10.2, 9.8, and 8.6. The investigators observed no trends in either accelerated growth or reduced growth; however, 1 patient with congenital renal hypoplasia and CAH did show reduced growth. While 193 treatment-emergent adverse events, including pyrexia, gastroenteritis, and viral upper respiratory tract infection, were reported in 14 patients, there were no observed adrenal crises. Limitations of this study included the small sample size as well as the relatively high drop-out rate of the initial sample. The researchers concluded that “hydrocortisone granules are an effective treatment for childhood adrenal insufficiency providing the ability to accurately prescribe pediatric appropriate doses.” Disclosure: Several study authors declared affiliations with the pharmaceutical industry. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures. Reference Neumann U, Braune K, Whitaker MJ, et al. A prospective study of children 0-7 years with CAH and adrenal insufficiency treated with hydrocortisone granules. Published online September 4, 2020. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. doi:10.1210/clinem/dgaa626
  3. Patients with different subtypes of Cushing’s syndrome (CS) have distinct plasma steroid profiles. This could be used as a test for diagnosis and classification, a German study says. The study, “Plasma Steroid Metabolome for Diagnosis and Subtyping Patients with Cushing Syndrome,” appeared in the journal Clinical Chemistry. A quick diagnosis of CS is crucial so that doctors can promptly give therapy. However, diagnosing CS is often complicated by the multiple tests necessary not just to diagnose the disease but also to determine its particular subtype. Cortisol, which leads to CS when produced at high levels, is a steroid hormone. But while earlier studies were conducted to determine whether patients with different subtypes of CS had distinct steroid profiles, the methods researchers used were cumbersome and have been discontinued for routine use. Recently, a technique called LC-MS/MS has emerged for multi-steroid profiling in patients with adrenocortical dysfunction such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, adrenal insufficiency and primary aldosteronism. Researchers at Germany’s Technische Universität in Dresden used that method to determine whether patients with the three main subtypes of CS (pituitary, ectopic and adrenal) showed differences in plasma steroid profiles. They measured levels of 15 steroids produced by the adrenal glands in single plasma samples collected from 84 patients with confirmed CS and 227 age-matched controls. They found that CS patients saw huge increases in the plasma steroid levels of 11-deoxycortisol (289%), 21-deoxycortisol (150%), 11-deoxycorticosterone (133%), corticosterone (124%) and cortisol (122%), compared to patients without the disease. Patients with the ectopic subtype had the biggest jumps in levels of these steroids. However, plasma 18-oxocortisol levels were particularly low in ectopic disease. Other steroids demonstrated considerable variation. Patients with the adrenal subtype had the lowest concentration of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA-SO4, which are androgens. Patients with the ectopic and pituitary subtype had the lowest concentration of aldosterone. Through the use of 10 selected steroids, patients with different subtypes of CS could be identified almost as closely as with other tests, including the salivary and urinary free cortisol test, the dexamethasone-suppressed cortisol test, and plasma adrenocorticotropin levels. The misclassification rate using steroid levels was 9.5 percent, compared to 5.8 percent in other tests. “This study using simultaneous LC-MS/MS measurements of 15 adrenal steroids in plasma establishes distinct steroid metabolome profiles that might be useful as a test for CS,” the team concluded, adding that using LC-MS/MS is advantageous, as specimen preparation is simple and the entire panel takes 12 minutes to run. This means it could be offered as a single test for both identification and subtype classification. From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/01/02/plasma-steroid-levels-used-screen-diagnosis-subtyping-patients-cushing-syndrome/
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