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Cushing's Syndrome Presenting as Non-Atherosclerotic Myocardial Infarction and Heart Failure

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Cushing's syndrome is a rare cause of myocardial infarction and heart failure. Herein, we report a female patient who presented acute myocardial infarction and heart failure with reduced ejection fraction. The patient was found to have hypercortisolism secondary to adrenocortical adenoma and responded well to therapy. This case underlines the effects of hypercortisolism on the cardiovascular system. The clinical presentation of this patient is unique because non-atherosclerotic myocardial infarction is rarely reported in Cushing's syndrome patients.



Cushing's syndrome is an endocrine condition associated with excessive secretion of cortisol. Hypertension, vascular atherosclerosis, and chronic cardiac remodelling and dysfunction are commonly recognized cardiovascular complications in Cushing's syndrome patients.1 Herein, we report a rare case of Cushing's syndrome patient with a primary diagnosis of non-atherosclerotic myocardial infarction and heart failure (HF).

Case Report

A 61-year-old female with a past medical history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was admitted with sudden onset chest pain on 6 February 2018. Electrocardiogram showed ST-segment elevation in leads V3–V5. Blood biochemical results of 1 h after the onset of chest pain: cardiac troponin I (cTnI) 0.06 ug/L↑, creatine kinase (CK) 63 U/L, creatine phosphokinase-MB (CK-MB) 22 U/L, aspartate transferase (AST) 19 U/L, and lactic dehydrogenase (LDH) 482 U/L. Myocardial injury markers were markedly elevated at the time point of 18 h after onset: cTnI 13.9 ug/L↑, CK 613 U/L↑, CK-MB 102 U/L↑, AST 112 U/L↑, and LDH 833 U/L↑. Due to the acute ECG changes and elevated myocardial injury markers, the patient was preliminarily diagnosed as ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) and underwent coronary angiography, which showed no stenosis, occlusion or dissection of coronary arteries (Figure 1). Echocardiography showed enlarged left atrial dimension (LAD, 55 mm) and left ventricular end diastolic dimension (LVDd, 57 mm), and reduced ejection fraction (EF, 33%). The patient was treated for STEMI and HF, and was started on aspirin, statin, diuretic of furosemide and spirolactone, metoprolol, and Sacubitril/valsartan (SV, initiated June, 2020). The patient was strictly adherent to the medication prescribed (Table 1).


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Coronary angiogram demonstrating no significant obstruction in coronary artery circulation.
Table 1. Echocardiography results
  2020-06-22 2020-09-02   2021-03-29 2021-06-02 2021-09-01 2021-10-22 2021-12-21
LAD (mm) 55 55   46 52 47 44 41
LVDd (mm) 57 57   53 55 54 51 55
IVS (mm) 10 10   11 10 10 10 11
LVPW (mm) 11 11   11 10 11 9 10
EF (%) 33 30   31 39 47 49 52.5
  • EF, ejection fraction; IVS, interventricular septum; LAD, left atrium dimension; LVDd, left ventricular end diastolic dimension; LVPW, left ventricular posterior wall.

However, the patient's condition was not improved despite optimized medication. On 26 January 2021, the patient was re-admitted with recurrent chest distress and oedema, with new symptoms of facial plethora, centripetal obesity, and hyperglycaemia (Figure S1). Abdominal CT scan showed a right adrenal adenoma (Figure 2). Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging revealed enlarged LVDd (62 mm), and reduced EF, with delayed myocardial enhancement and evidence of myocardial fibrosis and fatty deposits (Figure 3). Laboratory findings showed hypokalaemia: potassium 3.0 mmol/L, elevated serum cortisol level, low plasma ACTH level, and positive 1-mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test. Based on the above findings, the patient was diagnosed with Cushing's syndrome and started treatment with the glucocorticoid receptor inhibitor mifepristone on 5 February 2021.


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Abdominal CT scan showed adrenal adenoma at the right.

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Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging revealed enlarged LVDd, reduced EF, with delayed myocardial enhancement, evidence of myocardial fibrosis and fatty deposits.

With mifepristone added to the previous medical therapy (aspirin, statin, sacubitril/valsartan, metoprolol and diuretic of furosemide and spirolactone, and mifepristone), the patient's condition and cardiac function improved, and echocardiography (21 December 2021) showed increased EF (52.5%). The patient underwent partial adrenalectomy on 22 December 2021. Postoperative pathology confirmed adrenal cortical adenoma. At last follow-up on 29 May 2023, the patient showed marked improvement in face and body shape, with no complaints of chest distress or oedema (Figure S2).


In this case, the patient was first evaluated for STEMI due to her symptoms of chest pain, and the elevated ST-segment on ECG, along with the moderately elevated troponin I and other cardiac enzyme levels. However, coronary atherosclerotic heart disease was ruled out by the normal cardiac catheterization. We presume that a possible reason for acute myocardial infarction (AMI) might be vasospastic angina due to abnormal hormone levels with Cushing's syndrome, leading to increased excessive myocardial metabolic demand and relative myocardial hypoxia, which eventually induced myocardial infarction. Although coronary atherosclerotic heart disease is the main cause of AMI, many non-atherosclerotic processes can lead to an imbalance between decreased coronary blood flow and increased myocardial metabolic demand. To date, non-atherosclerotic myocardial infarction has rarely been reported in Cushing's syndrome patients. Vieira JT et al. reported that a patient with Cushing's disease was considered to have spontaneous coronary artery dissection, which is a rare reason for AMI.2

Cushing's syndrome is associated with an increased risk of cardiac failure,3 with both structural alterations and functional impairment. In our case, the patient's CMR imaging showed typical features of cardiac geometry, function, and fibrosis, in accordance with previous reports.4 The underlying mechanisms may be the enhanced responsiveness to angiotensin II and activation of the mineralocorticoid receptor in direct response to cortisol excess.5

Our patient responded well to the therapy of conventional anti-HF medication of sacubitril/valsartan, metoprolol, and diuretic, once mifepristone was added. This favourable response to the pharmacological regimen supports the benefits of the agents for the normalization of excess cortisol. This case indicates that early diagnosis and effective treatment of Cushing's syndrome may be crucial in preventing irreversible cardiac dysfunction secondary to cardiovascular events and heart failure.


This work was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81900409 and 82172182) and the PLA Youth Training Project for Medical Science (19QNP037).

Conflict of interest

The authors declares that there is no conflict of interest.

From https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ehf2.14548

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