Hyponatremia due to secondary adrenal insufficiency

Thanks to Jess for presenting the fascinating case of a middle-aged woman with family history of autoimmune disease who presented with acute onset of fatigue and abdominal pain, found to have vitiligo on exam.  Work up revealed hyponatremia due to a secondary adrenal insufficiency, pancytopenia, and panhypopituitarism possibly due to a yet to be diagnosed autoimmune disorder!


Clinical pearls

  • Remember that hyponatremia is a problem of water regulation that can be compounded by low solute intake.
  • Primary adrenal insufficiency is disorder at the level of the adrenal glands and manifests with low sodium and high serum potassium levels.
  • Secondary adrenal insufficiency is disorder at the level of the pituitary and manifests with low/normal sodium and normal potassium levels (because low cortisol leads to high ADH levels and hyponatremia).
    • Make sure to do work up to rule out panhypopituitarism.  Keep in mind that the most sensitive test for HPA access integrity is LH/FSH.
  • Tertiary adrenal insufficiency is disorder at the level of the hypothalamus and presents similarly to secondary AI.
  • Test for adrenal insufficiency with a cort-stim test and/or AM cortisol and ACTH levels.

Hyponatremia

Remember these three steps to working up hyponatremia:

  1. Is there a sodium problem? check serum osm
  2. Are the kidneys responding appropriately? check urine osm
  3. Is ADH revved up for a hemodynamic reason? check urine Na 

Capture

Adrenal insufficiency

Adrenal insufficiency
Source: NIDDK.gov

Primary AI:

  • Failure of adrenal glands
  • Causes: Addison’s (most common in the US), infiltrative processes (TB, sarcoid), hemorrhage, toxins
  • Labs would show ↓Na and ↑potassium (b/c aldosterone is gone)

Secondary AI:

  • Failure of pituitary (low ACTH)
  • Causes: pituitary lesions, surgeries, TBI, drugs
  • Clinically may present with loss of other anterior pituitary hormones
  • Labs would show ↓Na (because low cortisol leads to high ADH levels) but normal potassium levels (b/c aldosterone is active)

Tertiary AI:

  • Failure of hypothalamus (low CRH)
  • Causes: more commonly iatrogenic (cessation of high dose glucocorticoid therapy without taper) or post surgical interventions.

Hypopituitarism

Capture

Hypophysitis:

  • Inflammation of the pituitary
  • Four categories based on histologic findings:
    • Lymphocytic
      • Most common form
      • Seen in late pregnancy and post-partum period
      • Also associated with CTLA4 inhibitors like ipilimumab
    • Granulomatous
      • Idiopathic or secondary to GPA, sarcoid, TB
    • Plasmacytic (IgG4-related)
    • Xanthomatous (most rare)
  • Clinical presentation
    • Headache out of proportion to exam findings
    • Preferential decrease in ACTH and TSH ⇒ adrenal insufficiency and hypothyroidism
  • Prognosis:
    • Pituitary size eventually normalizes but pituitary loss of function is often permanent.

 

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