Adrenal crisis is a life-threatening emergency contributing to the excess mortality of patients with adrenal insufficiency. Studies in patients on chronic replacement therapy for adrenal insufficiency have revealed an incidence of 5–10 adrenal crises/100 patient years and suggested a mortality rate from adrenal crisis of 0.5/100 patient years. Patients with adrenal crisis typically present with profoundly impaired well-being, hypotension, nausea and vomiting, and fever responding well to parenteral hydrocortisone administration. Infections are the major precipitating causes of adrenal crisis. Lack of increased cortisol concentrations during infection enhances pro-inflammatory cytokine release and sensitivity to the toxic effects of these cytokines (e.g. tumour necrosis factor alpha). Furthermore, pro-inflammatory cytokines may impair glucocorticoid receptor function aggravating glucocorticoid deficiency. Treatment of adrenal crisis is simple and highly effective consisting of i.v. hydrocortisone (initial bolus of 100 mg followed by 200 mg over 24 h as continuous infusion) and 0.9% saline (1000 ml within the first hour). Prevention of adrenal crisis requires appropriate hydrocortisone dose adjustments to stressful medical procedures (e.g. major surgery) and other stressful events (e.g. infection). Patient education is a key for such dose adjustments but current education concepts are not sufficiently effective. Thus, improved education strategies are needed. Every patient should carry an emergency card and should be provided with an emergency kit for parenteral hydrocortisone self-administration. A hydrocortisone pen would hold a great potential to lower the current barriers to hydrocortisone self-injection. Improved patient education and measures to facilitate parenteral hydrocortisone self-administration in impending crisis are expected to significantly reduce morbidity and mortality from adrenal crisis.
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Sarah Johanssen and Bruno Allolio
Mifepristone (RU 486) blocks the action of cortisol by binding to the glucocorticoid receptor and, therefore, is of potential therapeutic value in Cushing's syndrome. However, research in endogenous hypercortisolism has been hampered by the controversy related to the use of mifepristone for inducing abortion. Currently, new studies are planned to better define the role of RU 486 in Cushing's syndrome. This paper reviews the available evidence concerning the therapeutic effects and adverse events of RU 486 in Cushing's syndrome.
Original articles and reviews were identified using a PubMed search strategy covering the time period until February 2007.
Treatment of Cushing's syndrome with mifepristone has been reported in a total of 18 patients, with daily doses ranging from 5 to 30 mg/kg. Case reports indicate that the mifepristone-induced receptor blockade may lead to significant clinical improvement in patients with Cushing's syndrome in whom surgery and inhibitors of adrenal steroidogenesis fail to control hypercortisolism. Due to its rapid onset of action, mifepristone may be particularly useful in acute crises, e.g. in cortisol-induced psychosis. Side effects include adrenal insufficiency and, as a result of its antiprogestin action, endometrial hyperplasia in long-term treatment. Adrenal insufficiency can be assessed only by careful clinical evaluation, as the hormonal parameters are not reliable during receptor blockade, and is rapidly reversed by exogenous dexamethasone. Well-designed larger clinical trials are needed to better assess the value of this interesting drug in the treatment of Cushing's syndrome.
Ulf Elbelt, Stefanie Hahner, and Bruno Allolio
Current glucocorticoid replacement regimens fail to fully mimic physiologic cortisol secretion in patients with primary adrenal insufficiency. This may lead to changes in insulin requirement in patients with primary adrenal insufficiency and type 1 diabetes. Therefore, we assessed insulin requirement in patients with autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome type 2 (APS-2).
Design and subjects
Ten females with primary adrenal insufficiency and type 1 diabetes (mean duration of type 1 diabetes 13±11 years and of primary adrenal insufficiency 11±9 years) were retrospectively assessed regarding insulin regimen and insulin dose adjustment. Data were compared with control patients matched for age, sex and duration of diabetes drawn from all patients with type 1 diabetes attending the diabetes outpatient clinics at the University Hospital Wuerzburg for a scheduled consultation.
Glycaemia was well controlled in both groups (mean HbA1c 6.99±0.81% in APS-2 patients versus 6.69±1.03% in control patients). The mean weight-adjusted daily dose of insulin was non-significantly higher in patients with APS-2 compared with control patients (0.69±0.35 IU/kg body weight versus 0.51±0.17 respectively). The mean insulin (IU)/carbohydrate-ratio for 10 g of carbohydrate in the morning was 1.9±1.0 and 1.4±0.5 respectively. However, the insulin/carbohydrate-ratios were significantly higher in the APS-2 patients both at noon (mean ratio 2.0±0.9 vs 1.1±0.5 in control patients) and in the evening (mean ratio 2.1±1.1 vs 1.3±0.5 respectively; P<0.05).
Glucocorticoid replacement therapy in patients with primary adrenal insufficiency and type 1 diabetes leads to significant changes in insulin requirement compared with patients with type 1 diabetes only.
Stefanie Hahner, Stephanie Burger-Stritt, and Bruno Allolio
Evaluation of the pharmacokinetics and safety of s.c. hydrocortisone injection for use in adrenal emergency.
Single-center, open-label, sequence-randomized, crossover study in a tertiary care center.
Patients and methods
Twelve patients with chronic Addison's disease. Comparison of hydrocortisone pharmacokinetics after s.c. and i.m. injection (100 mg) and after s.c. administration of sodium chloride (0.9%) respectively at three different visits.
Main outcome measure: maximum serum cortisol (C max), time to C max (t max), and time to serum cortisol >36 μg/dl (t serum cortisol >36 μg/dl) after s.c. administration compared with i.m. administration, safety, and patient preference.
Serum cortisol increased rapidly and substantially after both i.m. and s.c. injections (C max: 110±29 vs 97±28 μg/dl, P=0.27, t max: 66±51 vs 91±34 min, P=0.17, and t serum cortisol >36 μg/dl: 11±5 vs 22±11 min, P=0.004 respectively). Both i.m. and s.c. injections were well tolerated. Eleven (91.7%) patients preferred s.c. injection, whereas one patient did not have any preference.
S.c. administration of 100 mg hydrocortisone shows excellent pharmacokinetics for emergency use with only a short delay in cortisol increase compared with i.m. injection. It has a good safety profile and is preferred by patients over i.m. injection.
Sebastian Wortmann, Marcus Quinkler, Christian Ritter, Matthias Kroiss, Sarah Johanssen, Stefanie Hahner, Bruno Allolio, and Martin Fassnacht
No standard therapy for advanced adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is established by any randomized trial but a consensus conference 2003 recommended mitotane as monotherapy or combined with etoposide, doxorubicin and cisplatin or with streptozotocin as first-line systemic therapy. However, there is no evidence for any therapy beneficial in patients failing these therapies. Therefore, we evaluated the effects of the anti-VEGF antibody bevacizumab plus capecitabine as salvage therapy in ACC.
Patients registered with the German ACC Registry with refractory ACC progressing after cytotoxic therapies were offered treatment with bevacizumab (5 mg/kg body weight i.v. every 21 days) and oral capecitabine (950 mg/m2 twice daily for 14 days followed by 7 days of rest) in 2006–2008. Evaluation of tumour response was performed by imaging according to response evaluation criteria in solid tumours every 12 weeks.
Ten patients were treated with bevacizumab plus capecitabine. None of them experienced any objective response or stable disease. Two patients had to stop therapy after few weeks due to hand-foot syndrome, and three patients died on progressive disease within 12 weeks. Other adverse events were mild (grade I–II). Median survival after treatment initiation was 124 days.
Bevacizumab plus capecitabine has no activity in patients with very advanced ACC. Hence, this regimen cannot be recommended as a salvage therapy.
Stefanie Hahner, Martin Fassnacht, Fabian Hammer, Markus Schammann, Dirk Weismann, Immo Alex Hansen, and Bruno Allolio
Objective: A serine protease from rat adrenal cortex was recently characterized and named adrenal secretory protease (AsP). AsP is expressed in the adrenal cortex and is capable of cleaving pro-γ-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (1-76 N-terminus of pro-opiomelanocortin) into fragments that act as adrenal mitogens. AsP may therefore play a crucial role in adrenal growth and tumourigenesis. The aim of this study was to further characterize the human homologue of AsP and its possible role in adrenal tumourigenesis.
Methods and results: Starting with the rat cDNA sequence of AsP we detected high homology to the catalytic C-terminus of the human airway trypsin-like protease (HAT). Further analysis revealed that the HAT gene is the human homologue of a long splice variant of AsP, which we recently described as rat airway trypsin-like serine protease 1. In contrast to rodents, no short isoform of HAT was found in humans due to a stop codon in exon 6 which prevents the expression of a short isoform. While high expression of HAT mRNA was found in the trachea and in the gastrointestinal tract, expression in the adrenal was only very weak. RT-PCR and real-time PCR analysis revealed a complex tissue expression pattern of HAT, indicating a role for this protease in multiple tissues. We further investigated HAT expression in five normal adrenal glands, 15 adrenocortical adenomas (five hormonally inactive adenomas, five aldosterone-producing adenomas and five cortisol-producing adenomas), nine adrenocortical carcinomas, five phaeochromocytomas and two adrenal hyperplasias. Weak HAT expression was detectable in only two out of five normal adrenal glands, in one out of twenty-four adrenocortical tumours and four out of five phaeochromocytomas. However, the expression in the adrenal tissue was several orders of magnitude lower than in the trachea. In addition, we could not detect any HAT transcripts in a sample of fetal adrenal.
Conclusion: Gene structure and tissue distribution of HAT, the human homologue of the rat adrenal secretory protease AsP, reveal major interspecies differences. The observation of very low expression levels in normal adrenal tissue and adrenocortical tumours casts doubt about a role for HAT in the physiological and pathological growth of adrenocortical cells.
Benjamin Bleicken, Stefanie Hahner, Melanie Loeffler, Manfred Ventz, Bruno Allolio, and Marcus Quinkler
Recent studies have suggested that current glucocorticoid replacement therapies fail to fully restore well-being in patients with adrenal insufficiency (AI).
To investigate the effect of different glucocorticoid preparations used for replacement therapy on subjective health status (SHS) in AI.
Design and patients
In a cross-sectional study, primary and secondary AI patients were contacted by mail. Individual glucocorticoid replacement regimens, underlying diagnoses and comorbidities were verified by questionnaires and review of medical records. Patients were asked to complete three validated self-assessment questionnaires (Short Form 36 (SF-36), Giessen Complaint List (GBB-24), and Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale). Results were compared with sex- and age-matched controls drawn from the questionnaire-specific reference cohort.
Of the 883 patients identified, 526 agreed to participate in the study. Completed questionnaire sets were available from 427 patients (primary AI n=232; secondary AI n=195). AI patients showed significantly impaired SHS compared with controls irrespective of the glucocorticoid used for replacement. The only difference in SHS between patients on prednisolone (PR) and hydrocortisone (all patients and sub-analysis for primary AI) was significant higher bodily pain (lower Z-score in SF-36) in patients on PR (P<0.05, P<0.01 respectively). In patients with secondary AI, the PR group showed significantly (P<0.05) less heart complaints (lower Z-score) in the GBB questionnaire compared with the cortisone acetate group.
Glucocorticoid replacement therapy with PR seems to be equivalent to hydrocortisone regarding SHS in patients with AI. However, SHS remains impaired in all patient groups suggesting a need for further improved glucocorticoid replacement strategies.
Nicole Reisch, Marina Willige, Denise Kohn, Hans-Peter Schwarz, Bruno Allolio, Martin Reincke, Marcus Quinkler, Stefanie Hahner, and Felix Beuschlein
To study adrenal crisis (AC) in patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to classical 21-hydroxylase deficiency (21-OHD). AC was defined as an acute state of health impairment requiring i.v. glucocorticoid administration and hospital admission.
Design and methods
In a cross-sectional study with detailed retrospective assessment, AC was studied following two approaches: i) questionnaire based: 122 adult 21-OHD patients (50 men, 72 women, median age 35 years, range 18–69 years) completed a disease-specific questionnaire; and ii) patient chart based: charts of 67 21-OHD patients (32 males, 35 females, median age 31 years, range 20–66 years) were analyzed from diagnosis to last follow-up with regard to frequency and causes of AC since diagnosis.
Evaluation of questionnaires revealed 257 ACs in 4456 patient years (py; frequency 5.8 crises/100 py), while patient charts documented 106 ACs in 2181 py (4.9 crises/100 py). The chart-based evaluation showed that gastrointestinal infections (29%) and salt-wasting crisis (18%) were the main causes of AC. In 14%, the cause remained uncertain. There was no difference in the overall frequency of AC in males and females. AC mostly occurred during childhood, with more than 70% of AC in the first 10 years of life and one-third of AC in the first year of life. Still, 20% of cases of AC were observed in adults (>18 years).
Our data demonstrate a significant risk of AC in patients with 21-OHD over lifetime. Specific age-adapted and repeated crisis prevention training may help to reduce morbidity due to AC in 21-OHD.
Stefanie Hahner, Melanie Loeffler, Benjamin Bleicken, Christiane Drechsler, Danijela Milovanovic, Martin Fassnacht, Manfred Ventz, Marcus Quinkler, and Bruno Allolio
Adrenal crisis (AC) is a life-threatening complication of adrenal insufficiency (AI). Here, we evaluated frequency, causes and risk factors of AC in patients with chronic AI.
In a cross-sectional study, 883 patients with AI were contacted by mail. Five-hundred and twenty-six patients agreed to participate and received a disease-specific questionnaire.
Four-hundred and forty-four datasets were available for analysis (primary AI (PAI), n=254; secondary AI (SAI), n=190). Forty-two percent (PAI 47% and SAI 35%) reported at least one crisis. Three hundred and eighty-four AC in 6092 patient years were documented (frequency of 6.3 crises/100 patient years). Precipitating causes were mainly gastrointestinal infection and fever (45%) but also other stressful events (e.g. major pain, surgery, psychic distress, heat and pregnancy). Sudden onset of apparently unexplained AC was also reported (PAI 6.6% and SAI 12.7%). Patients with PAI reported more frequent emergency glucocorticoid administration (42.5 vs 28.4%, P=0.003). Crisis incidence was not influenced by educational status, body mass index, glucocorticoid dose, DHEA treatment, age at diagnosis, hypogonadism, hypothyroidism or GH deficiency. In PAI, patients with concomitant non-endocrine disease were at higher risk of crisis (odds ratio (OR)=2.02, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.05–3.89, P=0.036). In SAI, female sex (OR=2.18, 95% CI 1.06–4.5, P=0.035) and diabetes insipidus (OR=2.71, 95% CI 1.22–5.99, P=0.014) were associated with higher crisis incidence.
AC occurs in a substantial proportion of patients with chronic AI, mainly triggered by infectious disease. Only a limited number of risk factors suitable for targeting prevention of AC were identified. These findings indicate the need for new concepts of crisis prevention in patients with AI.
Cristina L Ronchi, Elisa Verrua, Emanuele Ferrante, Gwendolyn Bender, Elisa Sala, Andrea G Lania, Martin Fassnacht, Paolo Beck-Peccoz, Bruno Allolio, Anna Spada, and Maura Arosio
Radiation therapy (RT) is a useful adjuvant tool for acromegalic patients not cured by surgery and/or not responding to pharmacotherapy. However, its specific effects on cardio- and cerebrovascular morbidity are still on debate.
Retrospective analysis of 42 acromegalic patients cured after conventional radiotherapy (CRT, n=31) or radiosurgery by gamma-knife (GKRS, n=11) followed for a median period of 16.5 years (range: 2–40). Totally, 56 patients cured by surgery alone, with similar GH/IGF1 levels and duration of disease remission, served as control group.
Changes in cardiovascular risk factors, such as body mass index, glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, blood pressure, and lipid profile (pre-defined primary end point) and occurrence of new major cardio- and cerebrovascular events (secondary end point) during follow-up.
The number of obese, hypertensive, and dyslipidemic subjects increased over time only in patients cured with RT. In contrast, the glucose response to the oral glucose tolerance test and the percentage of subjects with glucose alterations improved only in controls. As expected, the percentage of patients with pituitary failure was deeply higher among RT patients than among controls (86 vs 30%, P<0.0005). Despite these findings, a similar number of RT patients and controls developed major cardio- or cerebrovascular events (4/42 vs 3/56, P: NS). No differences were found between CRT and GKRS subgroups.
Previous RT seems to be associated with a worse metabolic profile in acromegalic patients studied after a long-term follow-up. Nevertheless, a direct link between RT and cardiovascular events remains to be proven.