Cushing’s syndrome is associated with significant chronic and acute comorbidities including acute thromboembolic and cardiovascular events. To date, there are no data on the prevalence and predictors of acute and perioperative complications in patients with active Cushing’s syndrome.
In a single-center cohort analysis we evaluate predictors and outcomes of acute, life-threatening and perioperative complications in patients with active biochemically verified Cushing’s syndrome attending our endocrine department between 1978 and 2016. Any medical complications necessitating hospitalization, including admission to intensive care units (ICUs), from the time of appearance of first symptoms of hypercortisolism until one year after biochemical remission by surgery (or where surgical remission was not achieved, during continuing follow-up) were recorded and classified. Baseline factors related to and predicting acute complications were tested using uni- and multivariate analysis.
At least one acute complication was observed in 54.5% of patients; these included electrolyte disturbances (24.4%), infections (27.7%), thromboembolic events (14.9%), cardiac arrhythmias necessitating medical intervention (5.4%), hypertensive crises (8.7%), acute coronary events (3.3%) and cerebrovascular events (4.1%). At least one ICU admission (excluding post-surgical observance) was required in 13.2% of patients. The majority of complications occurred prior to surgery (60-90%); infections occurred pre- and postoperatively (51.7% vs 48.3%, respectively).
Patients with ectopic Cushing’s syndrome demonstrated a higher likelihood of infection (p<0.001), hypokalemia (p<0.001) and ICU stays (p=0.009) compared to patients with pituitary or adrenal Cushing’s syndrome. Patients with diabetes mellitus at diagnosis (n=81) had a significantly higher frequency of infection (p<0.001), hypokalemia (p<0.001), hypertensive crises (p=0.004), acute coronary events (p=0.029), arrhythmias (p=0.025) and a higher likelihood of an ICU stay (p<0.001).
This cohort analysis identifies a significantly high prevalence of acute and perioperative complications in Cushing’s syndrome, with one in eight patients suffering a life-threatening situation necessitating ICU admission. These acute complications are positively predicted by the degree of hypercortisolism, emphasizing the necessity for acute interventions aiming to reduce cortisol excess even before definitive disease cure is achieved.