We describe a case of aldosterone-producing adrenocortical adenoma (APA) associated with a probable post-operative adrenal crisis possibly due to subtle autonomous cortisol secretion. The patient was a 46-year-old female who suffered from severe hypertension and hypokalemia. CT and MRI scans revealed a 2-cm diameter adrenal mass. The patient's plasma aldosterone level was increased, and her plasma renin activity was suppressed, both of which findings were consistent with APA. Cushingoid appearance was not observed. Morning and midnight serum cortisol and plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) levels were all within the normal range. Her serum cortisol level was suppressed to 1.9 μg/dl as measured by an overnight 1-mg dexamethasone suppression test, but was incompletely suppressed (2.7 μg/dl) by an overnight 8-mg dexamethasone suppression test. In addition, adrenocortical scintigraphy showed a strong uptake at the tumor region and a complete suppression of the contra-lateral adrenal uptake. After unilateral adrenalectomy, she had an episode of adrenal crisis, and a transient glucocorticold replacement improved the symptoms. Histopathological studies demonstrated that the tumor was basically compatible with APA. The clear cells in the tumor were admixed with small numbers of compact cells that expressed 17 α-hydroxylase, suggesting that the tumor was able to produce and secrete cortisol. In addition, the adjacent non-neoplastic adrenal cortex showed cortical atrophy, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfotransferase immunoreactivity in the zonae fasciculata and reticularis was markedly diminished, suggesting that the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis of the patient was suppressed due to neoplastic production and secretion of cortisol. Together, these findings suggested that autonomous secretion of cortisol from the tumor suppressed the HPA axis of the patient, thereby triggering the probable post-operative adrenal crisis. Post-operative adrenocortical insufficiency should be considered in clinical management of patients with relatively large APA, even when physical signs of autonomous cortisol overproduction are not apparent.
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