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Patient: Female, 74-year-old Final Diagnosis: ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome • ectopic ACTH syndrome Symptoms: Edema • general fatigue • recurrent mechanical fall Medication: — Clinical Procedure: — Specialty: Critical Care Medicine • Endocrinology and Metabolic • Family Medicine • General and Internal Medicine • Nephrology • Oncology Objective: Unusual clinical course Background: Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (CS) secondary to an ectopic source is an uncommon condition, accounting for 4–5% of all cases of CS. Refractory hypokalemia can be the presenting feature in patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS), and is seen in up to 80% of cases. EAS can be rapidly progressive and life-threatening without timely diagnosis and intervention. Case Report: We present a case of a 74-year-old White woman who first presented with hypokalemia, refractory to treatment with potassium supplementation and spironolactone. She progressively developed generalized weakness, recurrent falls, bleeding peptic ulcer disease, worsening congestive heart failure, and osteoporotic fracture. A laboratory workup showed hypokalemia, hypernatremia, and primary metabolic alkalosis with respiratory acidosis. Hormonal evaluation showed elevated ACTH, DHEA-S, 24-h urinary free cortisol, and unsuppressed cortisol following an 8 mg dexamethasone suppression test, suggestive of ACTH-dependent CS. CT chest, abdomen, and pelvis, and FDG/PET CT scan showed a 1.4 cm right lung nodule and bilateral adrenal enlargement, confirming the diagnosis of EAS, with a 1.4-cm lung nodule being the likely source of ectopic ACTH secretion. Due to the patient’s advanced age, comorbid conditions, and inability to attend to further evaluation and treatment, her family decided to pursue palliative and hospice care. Conclusions: This case illustrates that EAS is a challenging condition and requires a multidisciplinary approach in diagnosis and management, which can be very difficult in resource-limited areas. In addition, a delay in diagnosis and management often results in rapid deterioration of clinical status. Keywords: Cushing Syndrome, Endocrine System, Hypokalemia Go to: Background Cushing’s syndrome (CS) has a variety of clinical manifestations resulting from excess steroid hormone production from adrenal glands (endogenous) or administration of glucocorticoids (exogenous) [1,2]. Endogenous CS is classified into 2 main categories: ACTH-dependent and ACTH-independent disease. In ACTH-dependent disease, the source of ACTH can further be subdivided into either the pituitary gland or an ectopic source . Ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) results from excess production of ACTH from extra-pituitary sources  and accounts for approximately 4–5% of cases of CS [3,4]. Common clinical manifestations of CS include weight gain, central obesity, fatigue, plethoric facies, purple striae, hirsutism, irregular menses, hypertension, diabetes/glucose intolerance, anxiety, muscle weakness, bruising, and osteoporosis . Hypokalemia is a less defining feature, seen in roughly 20% of cases with CS. However, it is present in up to 90% of cases with EAS [2,5], which is attributed to the mineralocorticoid action of steroid . Hypercortisolism due to EAS is usually severe and rapid in onset, and excess cortisol levels can lead to severe clinical manifestations, including life-threatening infections . Moreover, in most patients with EAS, the source of excess ACTH is an underlying malignancy that can further result in rapid deterioration of the overall clinical condition. Although numerous malignancies have been associated with EAS, lung neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) are the most common [2,8]. Since the treatment of choice for EAS is complete resection of the tumor, the correct localization of the source of ectopic ACTH is crucial in managing these patients. Traditional radiological investigations can localize these tumors in up to 50% of cases ; however, recent studies utilizing somatostatin receptor (SSTR) analogs have increased the sensitivity and specificity of tumor localization [9–11]. This case report describes a challenging case of an elderly patient with EAS who presented with refractory hypokalemia. Her clinical condition deteriorated rapidly in the absence of surgical intervention. Go to: Case Report A 74-year-old White woman was brought to the Emergency Department from her nephrologist’s office with a chief concern of persistent anasarca and recurrent hypokalemia of 1-month duration. In addition, she reported generalized weakness and recurrent mechanical falls in the preceding 3 months. Before presentation in March 2021, she had a medical history of type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease stage 3b, atrial fibrillation on chronic anticoagulation, heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (EF 35–40%), hypothyroidism, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. Home medications included diltiazem, apixaban, insulin glargine, levothyroxine, simvastatin, carvedilol, glimepiride, sacubitril, valsartan, and furosemide. On presentation, she was hemodynamically stable with temperature 36.5°C, heart rate 67 beats per min, blood pressure 139/57 mmHg, respiratory rate 20 per min, and saturation 98% on 2 L oxygen supplementation. Her height was 162.6 cm, and weight was 80.88 kg, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30.6 kg/m2. A physical exam showed central obesity, bruising in extremities, generalized facial swelling mainly in the periorbital region, severe pitting edema in bilateral lower extremities, and moderate pitting edema in bilateral upper extremities. A laboratory workup revealed serum potassium 2.4 mmol/L (3.6–5.2 mmol/L), serum sodium 148 mmol/L (133–144 mmol/L), and eGFR 31.5 mL/min/1.73 m2. Arterial blood gas analysis showed pH 7.6, PaCO2 48.9 mmHg (35.0–45.0 mmHg), and serum bicarbonate 32 mmol/L (22–29 mmol/L), which was consistent with primary metabolic alkalosis, appropriately compensated by respiratory acidosis. Due to concerns of loop diuretic-induced hypokalemia, she was started on spironolactone and potassium replacement. However, potassium levels persistently remained in the low range of 2–3.5 mmol/L (3.6–5.2 mmol/L) despite confirming compliance to medications and adequate up-titration in the dose of spironolactone and potassium chloride. Hence, the workup for the secondary cause of persistent hypokalemia was pursued. Hormonal evaluation revealed plasma aldosterone concentration (PAC) <1.0 ng/dL, plasma renin activity (PRA) 0.568 ng/mL/h (0.167–5.380 ng/mL/h), 24-h urine free cortisol (UFC) 357 mg/24h (6–42 mg/24h), ACTH 174 pg/mL, and DHEA-S 353 ug/dL (20.4–186.6 ug/dL). ACTH levels on 2 repeat testings were 229 pg/mL and 342 pg/mL. The rest of the laboratory workup is summarized in Table 1. Considering elevated ACTH and 24-h UFC, a preliminary diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing syndrome was made. An 8-mg dexamethasone suppression test revealed non-suppressed cortisol of 62.99 ug/dL along with dexamethasone 4050 ng/dL (1600–2850 ng/dL). A pituitary MRI was unremarkable for any focal lesion suggesting a diagnosis of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome secondary to an ectopic source. Imaging studies were then performed to determine the source. A CT scan of the chest and abdomen revealed adenomatous thickening with nodularity of bilateral adrenal glands, and a 1.4-cm nodule in the right middle lobe (Figure 1A, 1B). FDG-PET/CT showed severe bilateral enlargement of the adrenal glands with severe hyper-metabolic uptake (mSUV 9.2 and 9.1 for left and right adrenal glands, respectively) (Figure 2A). The uptake of the right lung nodule on PET/CT was 1.4 mSUV (Figure 2B). Figure 1. CT chest, abdomen, and pelvis w/o contrast showed bilateral enlargement of adrenal glands (A, red arrows) and a 1.4-cm nodule in the right middle lobe of the lung (B, blue arrow). Figure 2. Whole-body PET/CT following intravenous injection of 40 mCi FDG showed diffuse enlargement of the bilateral adrenal glands with mSUV of 9.2 on the left and 9.1 on the right adrenal gland, respectively (A, red arrows) and low-grade activity with an MSUV of 1.4 in right lung nodule (B, blue arrow). Table 1. Laboratory on initial presentation. Laboratory test Level Reference range WBCs 7.8 k/uL 3.7–10.3 k/uL RBCs 3.05 M/mL 3.–5.2 M/mL Hemoglobin 9.6 g/dL 11.2–15.7 g/dL Hematocrit 27.3% 34–45% Platelets 98 k/mL 155–369 k/mL MCV 89.7 fl 78.2–101.8 fl MCH 31.5 pg 26.4–33.3 pg MCHC 35.2 g/dL 32.5–35.3 g/dL RDW 15.8% 10.1–16.2% Glucose 73 mg/dL 74–90 mg/dL Sodium 148 mmol/L 136–145 mmol/L Potassium 2.4 mmol/L 3.7–4.8 mmol/L Bicarbonate 32 mmol/L 22–29 mmol/L Chloride 108 mmol/L 97–107 mmol/L Calcium 7.0 mg/dL 8.9–10.2 mg/dL Magnesium 1.7 mg/dL 1.7–2.4 mg/dL Phosphorus 2.3 mg/dL 2.5–4.9 mg/dL Albumin 2.4 g/dL 3.3–4.6 g/dL Blood urea nitrogen 41 mg/dL 0–30 ng/dL Creatinine 1.60 mg/dL 0.60–1.10 mg/dL Estimated GFR 31.5 mL/min/1.73m2 >60 mL/min/1.73 m2 Aspartate transaminase 42 U/L 9–36 U/L Alanine transaminase 67 U/L 8–33 U/L Alkaline phosphatase 90 U/L 46–142 U/L Total protein 4.8 g/dL 6.3–7.9 g/dL Arterial blood gas analysis PaCO2 48.9 mmHg 35.0–45.0 mmHg PaO2 63.1 mmHg 85.0–100.0 mmHg %SAT 92.8% 93.0–97.0 HCO3 47.8 mm/L 20.0–26.0 mm/L Base excess 26.3 mm/L <2.0 mm/L pH 7.599 7.350–7.450 Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) 174, 229 and 342 pg/mL 15–65 pg/mL Urine free cortisol, 24 h 357 ug/24 hr 6–42 mg/24 hr 8: 00 AM cortisol following 8 mg dexamethasone (4×2 mg doses) previous day 62.99 mg/dL 8: 00 AM dexamethasone following 8 mg dexamethasone (4×2 mg doses) previous day 4050 ng/dL 1600–2850 ng/dL Based on unsuppressed cortisol following an 8-mg dexamethasone suppression test, negative pituitary MRI, and 1.4-cm lung nodule, we diagnosed ACTH-dependent CS secondary to an ectopic source, most likely from the 1.4-cm lung nodule. While awaiting localization studies, within 3 months of initial presentation, she had 2 hospitalizations, one in May 2021 for acute anemia secondary to bleeding peptic ulcer disease (PUD) requiring endoscopic clipping of the bleeding ulcer, and another in June 2021 for acute on chronic congestive heart failure. The patient’s overall condition continued to deteriorate, and she became progressively weak and wheelchair-bound. A 68-Ga-DOTATATE was planned to establish the source of ectopic ACTH definitively; however, she developed a left hip fracture in July 2021 and could not present for follow-up care. Therefore, she was started on Mifepristone until curative surgery. However, considering the patient’s advanced comorbid conditions, the increased burden of the patient’s health care needs on her elderly husband, and the inability of other family members to provide necessary healthcare-related support, palliative care was pursued. In August 2021, she developed a sacral decubitus ulcer and community-acquired pneumonia. However, she was still alive while receiving palliative care in a nursing home until September 2021. Go to: Discussion Ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) is defined as secretion of ACTH from an extra-pituitary source and is the cause of Cushing’s syndrome (CS) in approximately 4–5% of cases [3,4]. Clinical features of EAS depend on the rate and amount of ACTH production . Among all forms of Cushing’s (excluding adrenal cortical carcinoma), EAS has the worst outcome, with one of the most extensive combined UK & Athens study demonstrating a 5-year survival rate of 77.6%. Compared to Cushing’s disease (CD), patients with EAS have severe and excessive production of ACTH, resulting in highly elevated cortisol levels. This leads to hypokalemia, metabolic alkalosis, worsening glycemia, hypertension, psychosis, and infections. Metabolic alkalosis and hypokalemia are the 2 most common acid-base and electrolyte abnormalities associated with glucocorticoid excess among these patients. Studies have shown that hypokalemia is seen in up to 90% of patients with EAS. Although hypertension and hypokalemia are often attributed to primary hyperaldosteronism, other causes should be sought. Under normal circumstances, the mineralocorticoid effect of cortisol is insignificant due to local conversion to cortisone by the action of 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase. Excessive cortisol in patients with EAS saturates the action of 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and leads to the appearance of mineralocorticoid action of cortisol . In our patient, the initial treatment of hypokalemia was unsatisfactory, so additional endocrine workup was pursued. Elevated urinary cortisol excretion, plasma ACTH levels, unsuppressed cortisol following 8 mg dexamethasone, and lung mass on CT scan strongly suggested that the clinical symptoms were due to EAS. Unfortunately, despite diagnosing the underlying condition contributing to the patient’s symptoms, her clinical condition rapidly deteriorated without surgical treatment. Various factors resulted in delayed diagnosis in our patient. First, the patient sought medical care only 3 months after symptom onset. Second, furosemide, a medication commonly used to treat patients with HFrEF, is a frequent culprit of hypokalemia and often is treated with adequate potassium supplementation. Third, multiple hospitalizations resulted in delays in the proper endocrine workup necessary for establishing hypercortisolism. Fourth, localization of the ectopic source requires advanced imaging studies, which are only available in a few tertiary care centers. Fifth, even after tumor localization with PET/CT scan, there is still a need for a more definitive localization study using Ga-DOTATATE scan, which has a higher specificity. However, it was unavailable in our institution and was only available in a few tertiary care centers, with the nearest center being 2.5 h away. Sixth, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic also played a critical role in promptly providing critical care necessary to the patient. In addition to those, the social situation of our patient also played an essential role in contributing to delays in diagnosis. It is well recognized that EAS is associated with various malignancies, mostly of neuroendocrine origin. The most common location of these tumors was found to be the lung (55.3%), followed by the pancreas (8.5%), mediastinum-thymus (7.9%), adrenal glands (6.4%), and gastrointestinal tract (5.4%) . Prompt surgical removal of ectopic ACTH-secreting tumors is the mainstay of therapy in patients with EAS . However, localization of such tumors with conventional therapy is often challenging as the sensitivity to localize the tumor is 50–60% for conventional imaging such as CT, MRI, and FDG-PET . In a study by Isidori et al, nuclear imaging improved the sensitivity of conventional radiological imaging . Moreover, newer imaging technologies using somatostatin receptor (SSTR) analogs such as 68Ga-DOTATATE PET/CT further improve the ability to localize the tumor. 68Ga-DOTATATE PET/CT, approved in 2016 by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for imaging well-differentiated NETs, has a high sensitivity (88–93%) and specificity (88–95%) to diagnose carcinoid tumor ; however, a systematic review reported a significantly lower sensitivity (76.1%) of 68Ga-DOTATATE PET/CT to diagnose EAS . Once localized, the optimal management of EAS is surgical re-section of the causative tumor, which is often curative. However, until curative surgery is done, patients should be medically managed. Drugs used to reduce cortisol levels include ketoconazole, mitotane, and metyrapone [16, 17]. These are oral medications and decrease cortisol synthesis by inhibiting adrenal enzymes . Etomidate is the only intravenous drug that immediately reduces adrenal steroid production and can be used when acute reduction in cortisol production is desired . Medical management requires frequent monitoring of cortisol levels and titration of dose to achieve low serum and urine cortisol levels. Mifepristone, an anti-progesterone at a higher dose, works as a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist and can be used to block the action of cortisol. Its use results in variable levels of ACTH and cortisol levels in patients with EAS. Hence, hormonal measurement cannot be used to judge therapeutic response, and clinical improvement is the goal of treatment . Drugs inhibiting ACTH secretion by NETs such as kinase inhibitors (vandetanib, sorafenib, or sunitinib) are effective in treating EAS secondary to medullary thyroid cancer . Somatostatin analogs such as octreotide and lanreotide have demonstrated short- and medium-term efficacy in a few EAS patients; however, a few patients failed to improve, necessitating the use of more effective treatment options [19,20]. Hence, they are not considered a first-line drug as monotherapy and should be used in combination with other agents, or as anti-tumoral therapy in non-excisable metastatic well-differentiated NETs [19,20]. Cabergoline, a dopamine agonist, has been used with variable therapeutic effects in a few patients . In 1 patient, the use of combination therapy using Mifepristone and a long-acting octreotide significantly improved EAS . In our patient, we initiated Mifepristone to reduce the burden associated with frequent biochemical monitoring and planned 68Ga-DOTATATE PET/CT to localize the tumor; however, further diagnostic and therapeutic approaches could not be further undertaken per family wishes. Go to: Conclusions EAS can present with refractory hypokalemia, especially in patients who are already at risk of developing hypokalemia. Diagnosis of EAS is often challenging and requires a multidisciplinary approach. Localization of source of EAS should be done using nuclear imaging, preferably using SSTR analogs, when available. Urgent surgical evaluation remains the mainstay of treatment following tumor localization and can result in a cure. EAS is a rapidly progressive and life-threatening situation that can be fatal if diagnosis or timely intervention is delayed. Go to: Abbreviations ACTH adrenocorticotropic hormone; CS Cushing’s syndrome; CT computed tomography; EAS ec-topic ACTH syndrome; MRI magnetic resonance imaging; FDG/PET 18-F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography; NET neuroendocrine tumors; SSTR somatostatin receptor; EF ejection fraction; PAC plasma aldosterone concentration; PRA plasma renin activity; UFC urine free cortisol; DHEA-S dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate; 68-Ga-DOTATATE Gallium 68 (68Ga) 1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecane-1,4,7,10-tet-raacetic acid (DOTA)-octreotate; PUD peptic ulcer disease Go to: Footnotes Financial support: None declared Go to: References: 1. Pluta RM, Burke AE, Golub RM. JAMA patient page. Cushing syndrome and Cushing disease. JAMA. 2011;306:2742. [PubMed] [Google Scholar] 2. Melmed SKR, Rosen C, Auchus R, Goldfine A. Williams textbook of endocrinology. Elsevier; 2020. [Google Scholar] 3. Rubinstein G, Osswald A, Hoster E, et al. 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This article is based on reporting that features expert sources. Adrenal Fatigue: Is It Real? More You may have heard of so-called 'adrenal fatigue,' supposedly caused by ongoing emotional stress. Or you might have come across adrenal support supplements sold online to treat it. But if someone suggests you have the controversial, unproven condition, seek a second opinion, experts say. And if someone tries to sell you dietary supplements or other treatments for adrenal fatigue, be safe and save your money. (GETTY IMAGES) Physicians tend to talk about 'reaching' or 'making' a medical diagnosis. However, when it comes to adrenal fatigue, endocrinologists – doctors who specialize in diseases involving hormone-secreting glands like the adrenals – sometimes use language such as 'perpetrating a diagnosis,' 'misdiagnosis,' 'made-up diagnosis,' 'a fallacy' and 'nonsense.' About 20 years ago, the term "adrenal fatigue" was coined by Dr. James Wilson, a chiropractor. Since then, certain practitioners and marketers have promoted the notion that chronic stress somehow slows or shuts down the adrenal glands, causing excessive fatigue. "The phenomenon emerged from the world of integrative medicine and naturopathic medicine," says Dr. James Findling, a professor of medicine and director of the Community Endocrinology Center and Clinics at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "It has no scientific basis, and there's no merit to it as a clinical diagnosis." An online search of medical billing code sets in the latest version of the International Classification of Diseases, or the ICD-10, does not yield a diagnostic code for 'adrenal fatigue' among the 331 diagnoses related either to fatigue or adrenal conditions or procedures. In a March 2020 position statement, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology addressed the use of adrenal supplements "to treat common nonspecific symptoms due to 'adrenal fatigue,' an entity that has not been recognized as a legitimate diagnosis." The position statement warned of known and unknown health risks of off-label use and misuse of hormones and supplements in patients without an established endocrine diagnosis, as well as unnecessary costs to patients and the overall health care system. Study after study has refuted the legitimacy of adrenal fatigue as a medical diagnosis. An August 2016 systematic review combined and analyzed data from 58 studies on adrenal fatigue including more than 10,000 participants. The conclusion in a nutshell: "Adrenal fatigue does not exist," according to review authors in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders. Adrenal Action You have two adrenal glands in your body. These small triangular glands, one on top of each kidney, produce essential hormones such as aldosterone, cortisol and male sex hormones such as DHEA and testosterone. Cortisol helps regulate metabolism: How your body uses fat, protein and carbohydrates from food, and cortisol increases blood sugar as needed. It also plays a role in controlling blood pressure, preventing inflammation and regulating your sleep/wake cycle. As your body responds to stress, cortisol increases. This response starts with signals between two sections in the brain: The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, which act together to release a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to make cortisol. This interactive unit is called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. While some health conditions really do affect the body's cortisol-making ability, adrenal fatigue isn't among them. "There's no evidence to support that adrenal fatigue is an actual medical condition," says Dr. Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis, a staff endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. "There's no stress connection in the sense that someone's adrenal glands will all of a sudden just stop producing cortisol because they're so inundated with emotional stress." If anything, adrenal glands are workhorses that rise to the occasion when chronic stress occurs. "The last thing in the body that's going to fatigue are your adrenal glands," says Dr. William F. Young Jr., an endocrinology clinical professor and professor of medicine in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "Adrenal glands are built for stress – that's what they do. Adrenal glands don't fatigue. This is made up – it's a fallacy." The idea of adrenal glands crumbling under stress is "ridiculous," Findling agrees. "In reality, if you take a person and subject them to chronic stress, the adrenal glands don't shut down at all," Findling says. "They keep making cortisol – it's a stress hormone. In fact, the adrenal glands are just like the Energizer Bunny – they just keep going. They don't stop." Home cortisol tests that allow consumers to check their own levels can be misleading, Findling says. "Some providers who make this (adrenal fatigue) diagnosis, provide patients with testing equipment for doing saliva cortisol levels throughout the day," he says. "And then, regardless of what the results are, they perpetrate this diagnosis of adrenal fatigue." Saliva cortisol is a legitimate test that's frequently used in diagnosing Cushing's syndrome, or overactive adrenal glands, Findling notes. However, he says, a practitioner pursuing an adrenal fatigue diagnosis could game the system. "What they do is: They shape a very narrow normal range, so narrow, in fact, that no normal human subject could have all their saliva cortisol (levels) within that range throughout the course of the day," he says. "Then they convince the poor patients that they have adrenal fatigue phenomena and put them on some kind of adrenal support." Loaded Supplements How do you know what you're actually getting if you buy a dietary supplement marketed for adrenal fatigue or 'adrenal support' use? To find out, researchers purchased 12 such supplements over the counter in the U.S. Laboratory tests revealed that all supplements contained a small amount of thyroid hormone and most contained at least one steroid hormone, according to the study published in the March 2018 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings. "These results may highlight potential risks for hidden ingredients in unregulated supplements," the authors concluded. Supplements containing thyroid hormones or steroids can interact with a patient's prescribed medications or have other side effects. "Some people just assume they have adrenal fatigue because they looked it up online when they felt tired and they ultimately buy these over-the-counter supplements that can be very dangerous at times," Vouyiouklis Kellis says. "Some of them contain animal (ingredients), like bovine adrenal extract. That can suppress the pituitary axis. So, as a result, your body stops making its own cortisol or starts making less of it, and as a result, you can actually worsen the condition rather than make it better." Any form of steroid from outside the body, whether a prescription drug like prednisone or extract from cows' adrenal glands, "can shut off the pituitary," Vouyiouklis Kellis explains. "Because it's signaling to the pituitary like: Hey, you don't need to stimulate the adrenals to make cortisol, because this patient is taking it already. So, as a result, the body ultimately doesn't produce as much. And, so, if you rapidly withdraw that steroid or just all of a sudden decide not to take it anymore, then you can have this acute response of low cortisol." Some adrenal support products, such as herbal-only supplements, may be harmless. However, they're unlikely to relieve chronic fatigue. Fatigue: No Easy Answers If you're suffering from ongoing fatigue, it's frustrating. And you're not alone. "I have fatigue," Young Jr. says. "Go to the lobby any given day and say, 'Raise your hand if you have fatigue.' Most of the people are going to raise their hands. It's a common human symptom and people would like an easy answer for it. Usually there's not an easy answer. I think 'adrenal fatigue' is attractive because it's like: Aha, here's the answer." There aren't that many causes of endocrine-related fatigue, Young Jr. notes. "Hypothyroidism – when the thyroid gland is not working – is one." Addison's disease, or adrenal insufficiency, can also lead to fatigue among a variety of other symptoms. Established adrenal conditions – like adrenal insufficiency – need to be treated. "In adrenal insufficiency, there is an intrinsic problem in the adrenal gland's inability to produce cortisol," Vouyiouklis Kellis explains. "That can either be a primary problem in the adrenal gland or an issue with the pituitary gland not being able to stimulate the adrenal to make cortisol." Issues can arise even with necessary medications. "For example, very commonly, people are put on steroids for various reasons: allergies, ear, nose and throat problems," Vouyiouklis Kellis says. "And with the withdrawal of the steroids, they can ultimately have adrenal insufficiency, or decrease in cortisol." Opioid medications for pain also result in adrenal sufficiency, Vouyiouklis Kellis says, adding that this particular side effect is rarely discussed. People with a history of autoimmune disease can also be at higher risk for adrenal insufficiency. Common symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include: Fatigue. Weight loss. Decreased appetite. Salt cravings. Low blood pressure. Abdominal pain. Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Muscle weakness. Hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin). Irritability. Medical tests for adrenal insufficiency start with blood cortisol levels, and tests for the ACTH hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland. "If the person does not have adrenal insufficiency and they're still fatigued, it's important to get to the bottom of it," Vouyiouklis Kellis says. Untreated sleep apnea often turns out to be the actual cause, she notes. "It's very important to tease out what's going on," Vouyiouklis Kellis emphasizes. "It can be multifactorial – multiple things contributing to the patient's feeling of fatigue." The blood condition anemia – a lack of healthy red blood cells – is another potential cause. "If you are fatigued, do not treat yourself," Vouyiouklis Kellis says. "Please seek a physician or a primary care provider for evaluation, because you don't want to go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. It's very important to rule out actual causes that would be contributing to symptoms rather than ordering supplements online or seeking an alternative route like self-treating rather than being evaluated first." SOURCES The U.S. News Health team delivers accurate information about health, nutrition and fitness, as well as in-depth medical condition guides. All of our stories rely on multiple, independent sources and experts in the field, such as medical doctors and licensed nutritionists. To learn more about how we keep our content accurate and trustworthy, read our editorial guidelines. James Findling, MD Findling is a professor of medicine and director of the Community Endocrinology Center and Clinics at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis, MD Vouyiouklis Kellis is a staff endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. William F. Young Jr., MD Young Jr. is an endocrinology clinical professor and professor of medicine in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota From https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/adrenal-fatigue-is-it-real?
Irina Bancos, M.D., an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Jamie J. Van Gompel, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic's campus in Minnesota, discuss Mayo's multidisciplinary approach to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting pituitary tumors. Pituitary tumors are common and often don't cause problems. But some pituitary tumors produce the hormone ACTH, which stimulates the production of another hormone (cortisol). Overproduction of cortisol can result in Cushing syndrome, with signs and symptoms such as weight gain, skin changes and fatigue. Cushing syndrome is rare but can cause significant long-term health problems. Treatment for Cushing syndrome caused by a pituitary tumor generally involves surgery to remove the tumor. Radiation therapy and occasionally adrenal surgery may be needed to treat Cushing syndrome caused by ACTH-secreting pituitary tumors. Mayo Clinic has experience with this rare condition.
A patient with depression developed Cushing’s syndrome (CS) because of a rare ACTH-secreting small cell cancer of the prostate, a case study reports. The case report, “An unusual cause of depression in an older man: Cushing’s syndrome resulting from metastatic small cell cancer of the prostate,” was published in the “Lesson of the Month” section of Clinical Medicine. Ectopic CS is a condition caused by an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting tumor outside the pituitary or adrenal glands. The excess ACTH then acts on the adrenal glands, causing them to produce too much cortisol. Small cell cancer is more common in older men, those in their 60s or 70s. Sources of ectopic ACTH synthesis arising in the pelvis are rare; nonetheless, ACTH overproduction has been linked to tumors in the gonads and genitourinary organs, including the prostate. Still, evidence suggests there are less than 30 published cases reporting ectopic CS caused by prostate cancer. Researchers from the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network and the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia described the case of an 84-year-old man who complained of fatigue, back pain, and lack of appetite. Blood tests revealed mildly elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and creatinine levels, which could indicate the presence of prostate cancer and impaired kidney function, respectively. The patient had a history of locally invasive prostate cancer even though he didn’t experience any symptoms of this disease. Ultrasound examination showed an enlarged prostate plus obstructed ureters — the tubes that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder. To remove the obstruction, doctors inserted a thin tube into both ureters and restored urine flow. After the procedure, the man had low levels of calcium, a depressed mood, and back pain, all of which compromised his recovery. Imaging of his back showed no obvious reason for his complaints, and he was discharged. Eight days later, the patient went to the emergency room of a large public hospital because of back pain radiating to his left buttock. The man also had mild proximal weakness on both sides. He was thinner, and had low levels of calcium, high blood pressure and serum bicarbonate levels, plus elevated blood sugar. In addition, his depression was much worse. A psychiatrist prescribed him an antidepressant called mirtazapine, and regular follow-up showed that his mood did improve with therapy. A computed tomography (CT) scan revealed a 10.5 cm tumor on the prostate and metastasis on the lungs and liver. Further testing showed high serum cortisol and ACTH levels, consistent with a diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome. But researchers could not identify the ACTH source, and three weeks later, the patient died of a generalized bacterial infection, despite treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics. An autopsy revealed that the cancer had spread to the pelvic sidewalls and to one of the adrenal glands. Tissue analysis revealed that the patient had two types of cancer: acinar adenocarcinoma and small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma — which could explain the excess ACTH. Cause of death was bronchopneumonia, a severe inflammation of the lungs, triggered by an invasive fungal infection. Investigators believe there are things to be learned from this case, saying, “Neither the visceral metastases nor aggressive growth of the pelvic mass noted on imaging were typical of prostatic adenocarcinoma. [Plus], an incomplete diagnosis at death was the precipitant for a post-mortem examination. The autopsy findings were beneficial to the patient’s family and treating team. The case was discussed at a regular teaching meeting at a large tertiary hospital and, thus, was beneficial to a wide medical audience.” Although a rare cause of ectopic ACTH synthesis, small cell prostate cancer should be considered in men presenting with Cushing’s syndrome, especially in those with a “mystery” source of ACTH overproduction. “This case highlights the importance of multidisciplinary evaluation of clinical cases both [before and after death], and is a fine example of how autopsy findings can be used to benefit a wide audience,” the researchers concluded. https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/10/16/rare-prostate-cancer-prostate-associated-cushings-syndrome-case-report/