Headaches are a common complaint in patients with pituitary tumors. Although many patients presumably have headaches which are unrelated to their pituitary tumor, there are several important direct and indirect mechanisms by which pituitary tumors may elicit or exacerbate headaches. Pituitary tumors may directly provoke headaches by eroding laterally into the cavernous sinus, which contains the first and second divisions of the trigeminal nerve, by involvement of the dural lining of the sella or diaphragma sella (which are innervated by the trigeminal nerve), or via sinusitis, particularly after transsphenoidal surgery. Headache pain in these situations is typically characterized by steady, bifrontal or unilateral frontal aching (ipsilateral to tumor). In some instances, pain is localized in the midface (either because of involvement of the second division of the trigeminal or secondary to sinusitis).
In contrast to the insidious, subacute development of headaches in most patients with pituitary tumors, patients with pituitary apoplexy may experience acute, severe headaches, perhaps associated with signs and symptoms of meningeal irritation (stiff neck, photophobia), CSF pleocytosis or occulomotor paresis. Routine CT scans of the head occasionally skip the sella, hence the presence of blood or a mass within the sella may not be detected and patients can be misdiagnosed with meningitis or aneurysm. Because pituitary apoplexy represents a neurosurgical emergency, MRI should be used in patients with symptoms suggestive of this disorder. A subacute form of pituitary apoplexy has also been reported. Patients with subacute pituitary apoplexy experience severe and/or frequent headaches over weeks to months and have heme products within the sella on MRI scans.
In most instances, headaches are not attributable to direct effects of the pituitary tumor and indirect causes must be considered. Generally, indirect effects of pituitary tumors are caused by reduced secretion of pituitary hormones and are manifested by promotion of “vascular” headaches (e.g., migraine). The major exception to this rule relates to the potential for acromegalic patients to develop headaches secondary to cervical osteoarthritis. Vascular headaches may be exacerbated in association with disruption of normal menstrual cyclicity and impaired gonadal steroid secretion (e.g., from hyperprolactinemia or gonadotropin deficiency). Hyperprolactinemia, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism may also have direct effects, independent of gonadal hormones. Headaches are common in acromegaly, and in the majority of cases the etiology is not well understood.
Finally, drug management of pituitary tumors may inadvertently impact headaches. Octreotide results in extremely rapid headache improvement with patients with acromegaly. The rapid time course suggests it is not due to lowering of GH levels. Octreotide also has a dramatic beneficial effect on migraine and may be producing relief of headache by vascular mechanisms. Occasionally severe headaches surface in acromegalic patients after reduction or discontinuation of octreotide, as a “withdrawal” phenomenon.|
Bromocriptine or other dopamine agonists occasionally trigger severe headaches. When this occurs, it is important to recognize that bromocriptine has been reported as a cause of pituitary apoplexy, and it may be necessary to perform an MRI or CT to rule out infarction or hemorrhage within the pituitary. Once it is established that the patient is not infarcting the pituitary, it is generally safe to treat the headaches symptomatically (not with an ASA containing drug) and consider alternative therapies for the prolactinoma if the problem remains severe.
Pituitary tumor patients with vascular headaches are generally quite responsive to standard prophylactic migraine drugs (e.g., tricyclic antidepressants, verapamil and beta-blockers). It is best to begin therapy with very low-dose medication (e.g., 10 mg of amitriptyline at bedtime) and resist the impulse to escalate the dose rapidly to higher levels. Often patients have an excellent response to 10-30 mg of a tricyclic antidepressant, although it may take up to six or more weeks to reach the ultimate benefit. The choice of tricyclic antidepressant should be based upon the desired side effects (e.g., either more sedation or less sedation) The newer, serotonin-selective antidepressants are generally less effective for headaches than tricyclics, although some patients do respond nicely to these agents. In some cases it may be necessary to use combination therapy (e.g., verapamil plus a tricyclic).
Acute adrenal crisis is a life-threatening state caused by insufficient levels of cortisol, which is a hormone produced and released by the adrenal gland.
Alternative Names: Adrenal crisis; Addisonian crisis; Acute adrenal insufficiency
Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
The two adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. They consist of the outer portion, called the cortex, and the inner portion, called the medulla. The cortex produces three types of hormones, all of which are called corticosteroids.
Cortisol is a glucocortoid, a corticosteroid that maintains glucose (blood sugar) regulation, suppresses the immune response, and is released as part of the body’s response to stress. Cortisol production is regulated by a small gland just below the brain called the pituitary gland. Cortisol is essential for life. Acute adrenal crisis is a medical emergency caused by a lack of cortisol. Patients may experience lightheadedness or dizziness, weakness, sweating, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, or even loss of consciousness.
Adrenal crisis occurs if the adrenal gland is deteriorating (Addison’s disease, primary adrenal insufficiency), if there is pituitary gland injury (secondary adrenal insufficiency), or if adrenal insufficiency is not adequately treated. Risk factors for adrenal crisis include physical stress such as infection, dehydration, trauma, or surgery, adrenal gland or pituitary gland injury, and ending treatment with steroids such as prednisone or hydrocortisone too early.
Slow, sluggish movement
Low blood pressure
Confusion or coma
Darkening of the skin
Rapid heart rate
Unintentional weight loss
Rapid respiratory rate (see tachypnea)
Unusual and excessive sweating on face and/or palms
Skin rash or lesions may be present
Loss of appetite
Signs and tests:
An ACTH (cortrosyn) stimulation test shows low cortisol.
The baseline cortisol level is low.
Fasting blood sugar may be low.
Serum potassium is elevated ( usually primary adrenal insufficiency).
Serum sodium is decreased (usually primary adrenal insufficiency).
In adrenal crisis, an intravenous or intramuscular injection of hydrocortisone (an injectable corticosteroid) must be given immediately. Supportive treatment of low blood pressure with intravenous fluids is usually necessary. Hospitalization is required for adequate treatment and monitoring. If infection is the cause of the crisis, antibiotic therapy may be needed.
Death may occur due to overwhelming shock if early treatment is not provided.
Calling your health care provider:
Call your health care provider if you have Addison’s disease and are unable to retain usual medications because of vomiting.Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if symptoms of acute adrenal crisis develop.
People who have Addison’s disease should be taught to recognize signs of potential stress that may cause an acute adrenal crisis. Most people with Addison’s disease are taught to give themselves an emergency injection of hydrocortisone or increase their dose of oral prednisone in times of stress.
It is important for the individual with Addison’s disease to always carry a medical identification card that states the type of medication and the proper dose needed in case of an emergency.
Never omit medication. If unable to retain medication due to vomiting, notify the health care provider.
Health Alert: Adrenal Crisis Causes Death in Some People Who Were Treated With hGH
Recently, doctors conducting the follow-up study of individuals treated with hGH looked at causes of death among recipients and found some disturbing news. Many more people have died from a treatable condition called adrenal crisis than from CJD. THIS RISK DOES NOT AFFECT EVERY RECIPIENT. IT CAN AFFECT THOSE WHO LACK OTHER HORMONES IN ADDITION TO GROWTH HORMONE. Please read on to find out if this risk applies to you. Death from adrenal crisis can be prevented.
Adrenal crisis is a serious condition that can cause death in people who lack the pituitary hormone ACTH. ACTH is responsible for regulating the adrenal gland. Often, people are unaware that they lack this hormone and therefore do not know about their risk of adrenal crisis.
Most people who were treated with hGH did not make enough of their own growth hormone. Some of them lacked growth hormone because they had birth defects, tumors or other diseases that cause the pituitary gland to malfunction or shut down. People with those problems frequently lack other key hormones made by the pituitary gland, such as ACTH, which directs the adrenal gland to make cortisol, a hormone necessary for life. Having too little cortisol can be fatal if not properly treated.
TREATMENT WITH HGH DOES NOT CAUSE ADRENAL CRISIS, but because a number of people lacking growth hormone also lack ACTH, adrenal crisis has occurred in some people who were treated with hGH. In earlier updates we have talked about how adrenal crisis can be prevented, but people continue to die from adrenal crisis, which is brought on by lack of cortisol. These deaths can be prevented. Please talk to your doctor about whether you are at risk for adrenal crisis.
Why should people treated with hGH know about adrenal crisis? Among the people who received hGH, those who had birth defects, tumors, and other diseases affecting the brain lacked hGH and often, other hormones made by the pituitary gland. A shortage of the hormones that regulate the adrenal glands can cause many health problems. It can also lead to death from adrenal crisis. This tragedy can be prevented.
What are adrenal hormones? The pituitary gland makes many hormones, including growth hormone and ACTH, a hormone which signals the adrenal glands to make cortisol, a hormone needed for life. If the adrenal gland doesn’t make enough cortisol, replacement medications must be taken. The most common medicines used for cortisol replacement are:
What is adrenal crisis? Adrenal hormones are needed for life. The system that pumps blood through the body cannot work during times of physical stress, such as illness or injury, if there is a severe lack of cortisol (or its replacement). People who lack cortisol must take their cortisol replacement medication on a regular basis, and when they are sick or injured, they must take extra cortisol replacement to prevent adrenal crisis. When there is not enough cortisol, adrenal crisis can occur and may rapidly lead to death.
What are the symptoms of lack of adrenal hormones? If you don’t have enough cortisol or its replacement, you may have some of these problems:
feeling tired all the time
feeling sick to your stomach
When someone with adrenal gland problems has weakness, nausea, or vomiting, that person needs immediate emergency treatment to prevent adrenal crisis and possible death.
• Why are adrenal hormones so important? Cortisol (or its replacement) helps the body respond to stress from infection, injury, or surgery. The normal adrenal gland responds to serious illness by making up to 10 times more cortisol than it usually makes. It automatically makes as much as the body needs. If you are taking a cortisol replacement drug because your body cannot make these hormones, you must increase the cortisol replacement drugs during times of illness, injury, or surgery. Some people make enough cortisol for times when they feel well, but not enough to meet greater needs when they are ill or injured. Those people might not need cortisol replacement every day but may need to take cortisol replacement medication when their body is under stress. Adrenal crisis is extremely serious and can cause death if not treated promptly. Discuss this problem with your doctor to help decide whether you need more medication or other treatment to protect your health.
• How is adrenal crisis treated? People with adrenal crisis need immediate treatment. ANY DELAY CAN CAUSE DEATH.When people with adrenal crisis are vomiting or unconscious and cannot take medicine, the hormones can be given as an injection. Getting an injection of adrenal hormones can save your life if you are in adrenal crisis. If you lack the ability to make cortisol naturally, you should carry a medical ID card and wear a Medic-Alert bracelet to tell emergency workers that you lack adrenal hormones and need treatment. This precaution can save your life if you are sick or injured.
• How can I prevent adrenal crisis?
• If you are always tired, feel weak, and have lost weight, ask your doctor if you might have a shortage of adrenal hormones.
• If you take hydrocortisone, prednisone, or dexamethasone, learn how to increase the dose when you become ill.
• If you are very ill, especially if you are vomiting and cannot take pills, seek emergency medical care immediately. Make sure you have a hydrocortisone injection with you at all times, and make sure that you and those around you (in case you’re not conscious) know how and when to administer the injection.
• Carry a medical ID card and wear a bracelet telling emergency workers that you have adrenal insufficiency and need cortisol. This way, they can treat you right away if you are injured.
Remember: SOME PEOPLE WHO LACKED GROWTH HORMONE MAY ALSO LACK CORTISOL, A HORMONE NECESSARY FOR LIFE. LACK OF CORTISOL CAN CAUSE ADRENAL CRISIS, A PREVENTABLE CONDITION THAT CAN CAUSE DEATH IF TREATED IMPROPERLY .
Deaths from adrenal crisis can be prevented if patients and their families recognize the condition and are careful to treat it right away.
Adrenal crisis is a medical emergency. Know the symptoms and how to adjust your medication when you are ill. TAKING THESE PRECAUTIONS CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE.
DebMV suggested that you should have a Medic Alert bracelet from medicalert.org
Toll free number in the USA is: by phone 7 days a week, 24 hours a day: 888-633-4298
209-668-3333 from outside the U.S.
An abrupt, life-threatening state caused by insufficient cortisol, a hormone produced and released by the adrenal gland.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
The two adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys. They consist of the outer portion, called the cortex, and the inner portion, called the medulla. The cortex produces three types of hormones, which are called corticosteroids. The androgens and estrogens affect sexual development and reproduction. The glucocorticoids maintain glucose regulation, suppress the immune response, and provide for the response to stress (cortisol). The mineralocorticoids regulate sodium and potassium balance. These hormones are essential for life.
Acute adrenal crisis is an emergency caused by decreased cortisol. The crisis may occur in a person with Addison’s disease, or as the first sign of adrenal insufficiency. More uncommonly, it may be caused by a pituitary gland disorder. It may also be caused by sudden withdrawal of corticosteroids, removal or injury of the adrenal glands, or destruction of the pituitary gland. Risk factors are stress, trauma, surgery, or infection in a person with Addison’s disease, or injury or trauma to the adrenal glands or the pituitary gland. The incidence is 4 out of 100,000 people.
People who have Addison’s disease should be taught to recognize signs of potential stress that may precipitate an acute adrenal crisis (cause it to occur suddenly and unexpectedly). Most people with Addison’s disease are taught to give themselves an emergency injection of hydrocortisone in times of stress. It is important for the individual with Addison’s disease to always carry a medical identification card that states the type of medication and the proper dose needed in case of an emergency. Never omit medication. If unable to retain medication due to vomiting, notify the health care provider.
slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
low blood pressure
confusion or coma
darkening of the skin
rapid heart rate
unintentional weight loss
rapid respiratory rate
unusual and excessive sweating on face and/or palms
skin rash or lesion may be present
Signs and tests:
An ACTH (cortrosyn) stimulation test shows low cortisol.
The cortisol level is low.
The fasting blood sugar may be low.
The serum potassium is elevated.
The serum sodium is decreased.
This disease may also alter the results of the following tests:
In adrenal crisis, an intravenous or intramuscular injection of hydrocortisone (an injectable corticosteroid) must be given immediately. Supportive treatment of low blood pressure is usually necessary. Hospitalization is required for adequate treatment and monitoring. Low blood pressure may be treated with intravenous fluids. If infection is the cause of the crisis, antibiotic therapy is indicated.
Death may occur due to overwhelming shock if early treatment is not provided.
As with most mornings, this one began with nausea. I’m used to it, so didn’t think much about it. I made it to the bathroom and was feeling really awful. Decided to just go to the toilet because I had that impending feeling.
Next thing I knew I was waking up, but it wasn’t like a normal awakening. I remember being in a tunnel and then thinking, “Well, this isn’t where I normally sleep.” Then I realized of course it wasn’t where I normally slept! Normally I sleep in a bed, not wedged between a wall and the toilet. (Not that I was that coherent).
I was completely disoriented as to time, place, etc. I had one big yell in me and yelled “HELP”. My four year old brought me the phone and my son got me a towel. I called 911 (thank God I had a 911 sticker on the phone because I really couldn’t remember the number). I kept telling the dispatcher I was in adrenal crisis. Of course, that meant nothing to him. I had my son get my shot but somewhere I knew that I wasn’t together enough to give myself the shot. So I puked a few more times and told my son to take my daughter upstairs so she wasn’t scared when the ambulance came.
I decided to rest on the floor of the bathroom. I had, at first, tried to go to the couch but I was much, much too weak. So my son directed the medics into the bathroom. They eventually carried me to the couch. I kept telling them about my shot, but couldn’t remember where I had my letter from Dr. Cook. They thought I was an overdose or a psych case (they told me later). They had all my pills lined up and were asking when I took this or that one last. I finally told them to look at the friggin date on the bottle and see that they were all 3/4 full. (I was agitated, too)
They put the heart monitor on me and inserted an IV and took me to the hospital. I puked one more time in the ambulance and when we arrived (though my tummy was empty). My brother and sister-in-law where there (hospital) when I arrived and my mom had arrived at my house to take care of the kids as we were leaving. Then she met us up there.
Before we arrived at the hospital, my husband had faxed a copy of Dr. Cook’s letter on how to treat me over (Brian was at work when this happened). So they came in and inserted another fluid bag. Then about ten minutes later (after my brother told the doctor, “I fully expect that my sister will have her shot withing the next ten minutes” – patient advocates are a good thing because I could’ve cared less at that point) I had my 100 mg shot of solu-medrol. I was lucky because my doctor in the ER knew about adrenal crisis.
Then I had another bag and repeated tests of my bp and heartrate. It wasn’t pretty – every time my bp was low, generally around 80/50, sometimes lower and my heart rate was 120+. They decided to admit me, but I fought and fought. Once I got a shot of Zofran (anti-nausea, best in the world) and my cortisone and some fluid, I was feeling decent. I look and feel like I’ve been through a war, but I’m alive.
As to why this happened, we’re not entirely sure at this point. I have one urine test that they’re culturing or something. I might also have shingles, but again – that’ll show up in due time (a day or two, if I have it). Or, as Dr. Cook said when I talked to him, sometimes we just don’t know. I was doing so well on my meds, back up to 27.5 and feeling good. Now I’m on 40 for the next day, and 30 for a week. Frustrating.
Adrenal crisis is awful. It’s terrifying. And what makes me want to cry as I write this (who am I kidding, I am crying) is that I couldn’t have cared less if I lived or died. I was not in my right mind, I felt so horrid. All the surgeries combined, today was the worst day I’ve ever had. And it was a huge wake-up call. I need to have a better medic-alert bracelet because they had no idea what “Stress dose steroids” were. I need to have a list of what to do in crisis on my fridge, in my purse and with every family member. Same with the letter from my endo on how to treat me. Because when I’m in crisis, I don’t know any better. I need to have things that speak for me. Thank God for family that knows, and for good doctors.
Anyway, I didn’t post this to scare anyone but Adrenal Crisis is not something to take lightly. When I felt myself hurting the night before (back pain, possibly shingles though I doubt it) I should’ve just taken an extra 5 mgs. Would’ve been a heck of a lot easier than what happened today.
A few funny parts of the day: My daughter had to dress herself and my mom was in a hurry to get her to daycare and come see me. So my daughter spent the day at daycare in tights, too small shorts and a turtleneck (none of which came close to matching). Oh, and black patent leather shoes.
Also, the medics asked what I weighed. Out of habit, I said 222 (my highest Cushing’s weight). They ALL did a double take and said no way. One guessed 140 – bless his heart. I never did get myself weighed so I don’t even know.
Oh, and if any of you called at about 8 am and spoke with a medic, call me back. lol I had a blocked call at 8am, and I vaguely remember the medic talking to someone but I wasn’t with it enough to ask who called. lol
Something I don’t say enough: I love and value you all.
The following is from the June 2002 issue of Addison News. Joan Hoffman, editor/publisher, kindly sent this issue to me and I wanted to share this with you.
This is a flow chart to show the pathway of events in a crisis. It is very important to intervene as early as possible. Use your injectable and head for the hospital! The rate at which these events take varies with individuals and circumstances. The chart is a variation of one found in a nursing encyclopedia.
Cortisol is a hormone which produced by the adrenal gland (cortex) to control blood sugar. The production of cortisol is triggered by the pituitary hormone ACTH. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid which stimulates an increase in blood glucose. Cortisol will also stimulate the release of amino acids from muscle tissue and fatty acids from adipose tissue. The amino acids are then converted in the liver to glucose (for use by the brain). The fatty acids can be used by skeletal muscles for energy (rather than glucose) thereby freeing up glucose for selective utilization by the brain. Cortisol levels are often measured to evaluate the function of the pituitary or adrenal glands. Some of the cortisol is metabolized by the liver to produce 17 hydroxycorticosteroids, which is then excreted in the urine.
The primary stress hormone. Cortisol is the major natural GLUCOCORTICOID (GC) in humans.
Synthetic cortisol, also known as hydrocortisone, is used as a drug mainly to fight allergies and inflammation.
The amount of cortisol present in the serum undergoes diurnal variation, with the highest levels present in the early morning, and lower levels in the evening, several hours after the onset of sleep. Information about the light/dark cycle is transmitted from the retina to the paired suprachiasmatic nuclei in the hypothalamus. Changed patterns of the serum cortisol levels have been observed in connection with abnormal ACTH levels, clinical depression, psychological stress, and such physiological stressors as hypoglycemia, illness, fever, trauma, surgery, fear, pain, physical exertion or extremes of temperature. There is also significant individual variation, although a given person tends to have consistent rhythms.
Cortisol also inhibits the secretion of corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH), resulting in feedback inhibition of ACTH secretion. Some researchers believe that this normal feedback system may break down when animals are exposed to chronic stress.
In normal release, cortisol has widespread actions which help restore homeostasis after stress. It acts as a physiological antagonist to insulin by promoting gluconeogenesis, breakdown of lipids, and proteins, and mobilization of extrahepatic amino acids and ketone bodies. This leads to increased blood glucose concentrations, resulting in increased glycogen formation in the liver (Freeman, 2002). It also increases blood pressure. In addition, immune and inflammatory cells have their responses to stress attenuated by cortisol, and the hormone thus lowers the activity of the immune system. Bone formation is also lowered by cortisol.
These normal endogenous functions are the basis for the physiological consequences of chronic stress – prolonged cortisol secretion causes muscle wastage, hyperglycemia, and suppresses immune / inflammatory responses. The same consequences arise from long-term use of glucocorticoid drugs.
Also, long-term exposure to cortisol results in damage to cells in the hippocampus. This damage results in impaired learning. However, short-term exposure of cortisol helps to create memories; this is the proposed mechanism for storage of flash bulb memories.
As an oral or injectable drug, cortisol is also known as hydrocortisone. It is used as an immunosuppressive drug, given by injection in the treatment of severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis and angioedema, in place of prednisolone in patients who need steroid treatment but cannot take oral medication, and peri-operatively in patients on long-term steroid treatment to prevent an Addisonian crisis.
It is given by topical application for its anti-inflammatory effect in allergic rashes, eczema and certain other inflammatory conditions. It may also be injected into inflamed joints resulting from diseases such as gout.
Compared to prednisolone, hydrocortisone is about 1/4th the strength. Dexamethasone is about 40 times stronger than hydrocortisone. For side effects, see corticosteroid and prednisolone.
A certain amount of cortisol is necessary for life. Without cortisol even a small amount of stress will kill you. Addison’s disease is a disease which causes low cortisol levels, and which is treated by cortisol replacement therapy.
helps maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular function;
helps slow the immune system’s inflammatory response;
helps balance the effects of insulin in breaking down sugar for energy; and
helps regulate the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.