Cushing's Syndrome in Children

by Brian Alverson, MD

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    00:01 In this lecture we're going to discuss Cushing's syndrome and Addison's disease.

    00:06 Two issues whether abnormal amount of steroids in the blood.

    00:10 Remember the state of excessive circulating glucocorticoids is really what the hallmark of Cushing's is.

    00:21 These patients have too many steroids.

    00:23 Cushing's syndrome is much more common in adults but we do see it in children rarely.

    00:28 So I want to discuss and particularly focus on perhaps some pediatric concerns.

    00:34 So let's recall the HPA axis, HPA it starts with the hypothalamus.

    00:40 The hypothalamus makes corticotropin releasing hormone which stimulates the anterior pituitary.

    00:47 The anterior pituitary in turn uses ACTH to stimulate the adrenal cortex.

    00:54 The adrenal cortex then makes endogenous steroids which go back and inhibit the anterior pituitary and the hypothalamus as a negative feedback loop.

    01:06 This is our normal HPA axis.

    01:09 So Cushing's syndrome can be ACTH dependent or ACTH independent.

    01:16 ACTH dependent Cushing's is Cushing's that's cause by too much ACTH.

    01:24 We see this and for example, pituitary adenomas which is a very common cause of Cushing's in children.

    01:31 We can also see this incredibly rarely in ectopic ACTH or carcinoid tumors such us bronchial tumors, renal or thymic tumors these are incredibly rare in children.

    01:47 ACTH independent Cushing's by far and away is most often caused by excessive steroid use which is usually given to try and control for example on an autoimmune condition, or some problem whether it's too much inflammation.

    02:03 Rarely, ACTH independent Cushing's can be from adrenocortical tumors that are secreting purely cortisol.

    02:14 Primary adrenocortical hyperplasia is a condition which is associated with one of the MEN syndromes.

    02:22 If you can also see it in McCune-Albright's disease.

    02:26 This is a generally hyperplastic adrenal cortex that is secreting too much cortisol.

    02:33 So we're used to seeing pictures of adults with striae and moon facies and the buffalo hump and this can actually happen in children too.

    02:43 Here is an example of a child with moon facies.

    02:46 This child has too much steroid probably from the steroids that are being administered for this child's underline bronchopulmonary dysplasia.

    02:54 Patients may have violaceous striae they may have plethora or redness to their skin.

    03:00 They may have significant weight gain as you can see in this child.

    03:04 However, poor growth.

    03:06 They tend to be over weight but under tall.

    03:09 Short stature occurs in up to 40% of them.

    03:12 They will be virilized or excessively masculine especially if they are girls.

    03:17 They maybe irritable or fussy and difficult to handle children and they may also get fatigue easily especially if they get older.

    03:26 So if we suspect Cushing's disease we want to try and figure out what the cause may be.

    03:33 And one of the first things we can do is check a 24-hour urine cortisol level.

    03:38 This is simply collecting urine for a day and then measuring the cortisol.

    03:43 We do the full day because it varies from time during the day when your urine cortisol is going to be a highest typically in the morning.

    03:52 Serum cortisol levels throughout the day also can assess this circadian rhythmicity of cortisol levels.

    04:02 If we're still confuse we can do something called the dexamethasone suppression test.

    04:08 Here we provide either a low or a high dose of dexamethasone.

    04:13 So the way we'll do this test is we'll check an ACTH level prior to starting.

    04:19 This can give us a sense of whether this is primary or secondary high cortisol levels from the adrenal gland or from the brain.

    04:28 Then we'll give dexamethasone for 2 days at the doses that we describe there and then we'll check both a cortisol and ACTH level.

    04:37 What you'll see is this test is a variety of responses.

    04:42 What we should typically see when we're giving dexamethasone to a healthy patient is that we'll have a down regulation of ACTH and cortisol in this patient.

    04:53 In patients with Cushing's disease the low dose may not reduce the expression of ACTH but the high dose may.

    05:03 Alternatively in patients with for example an ACTH secreting tumor no suppression occurs.

    05:11 So in Cushing's disease for patients with ectopic ACTH or a suspected tumor, imaging and chemotherapy or surgical excision is necessary, that's very unusual.

    05:24 For patients more commonly with primary Cushing's disease a transsphenoidal surgery may be needed to remove a pituitary adenoma.

    05:35 Adrenalectomy is only necessary if that transsphenoidal surgery is impossible.

    05:42 Radiation is really a second-line treatment for this children with pituitary glands that is secreting too much ACTH.

    05:50 Medical therapy can be use specifically ketoconazole, metyrapone or other adrenal blocking agents as a temporizing measure prior to surgery.

    About the Lecture

    The lecture Cushing's Syndrome in Children by Brian Alverson, MD is from the course Pediatric Endocrinology.

    Included Quiz Questions

    1. Increased energy
    2. Moon facies
    3. Violaceous striae
    4. Plethora
    5. Short stature
    1. Cortisol
    2. Aldosterone
    3. Pregnenolone
    4. Dehydroepiandrosterone
    5. Corticosterone
    1. Hypothalamus - CRH - anterior pituitary - ACTH - adrenal cortex - cortisol - negative feedback
    2. Hypothalamus- ACTH- anterior pituitary- CSH- adrenal cortex - cortisol - negative feedback
    3. Anterior pituitary - ACTH - hypothalamus- CRH - adrenal cortex - cortisol - positive feedback
    4. Anterior pituitary - CRH - hypothalamus- ACTH - adrenal cortex - cortisol - negative feedback
    5. Hypothalamus - CRH - hippocampus - ACTH - adrenal cortex - cortisol - positive feedback
    1. A dexamethasone suppression test
    2. Repeating the 24-hour urine cortisol test
    3. Serum cortisol levels
    4. Serum ACTH levels
    5. Ultrasound of the adrenal glands
    1. Glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid administration
    2. Transsphenoidal surgery in case of a pituitary adenoma
    3. Adrenalectomy in case of an adrenal adenoma
    4. Radiation
    5. Adrenal-blocking agents
    1. Exogenous steroids are the most common cause of ACTH-dependent CS.
    2. A pituitary adenoma is the most common endogenous cause of CS.
    3. CS can present as virilization.
    4. CS is a state of excessive circulating glucocorticoids.
    5. CS is more common in adults and very rare in children.

    Author of lecture Cushing's Syndrome in Children

     Brian Alverson, MD

    Brian Alverson, MD

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