Medical suppression of hypercortisolemia in Cushing's syndrome with particular consideration of etomidate.

PMID 21556813


Cushing's syndrome is associated with excessive cortisol secretion by the adrenal gland or ectopic tumours and may result in diabetes, hypertension, and life-threatening infections with high mortality rates especially in the case of surgical resection. Although surgical resection is the treatment of choice, patients may benefit from preceding medical therapy. This may especially be useful as an adjunctive approach in emergency settings, if patients cannot undergo surgery, if surgery or radiotherapy fails, or if the tumour recurs. Medical therapy can be categorized in three different groups-inhibition of steroidogenesis, suppression of adrenocorticotropic hormone, and antagonism of the glucocorticoid receptor. However, the majority of common drugs are not available for parenteral administration, which may evoke a management problem in emergency settings or in patients unable to tolerate oral medication. The carboxylated imidazole etomidate is a well known parenteral induction agent for general anaesthesia. Besides its hypnotic properties, etomidate also has α-adrenergic characteristics and inhibits the enzyme 11-deoxycortisol ß-hydroxylase, which catalyzes the final step of the conversion of cholesterol to cortisol. Adverse outcomes have been reported when used for sedation in septic or trauma patients probably by its interference with steroid homeostasis. However, its capability of inhibition of the 11-deoxycortisol ß-hydroxylase leads to suppression of cortisol secretion which has been demonstrated to be a useful tool in severe and complicated hypercortisolemia. Within this article, we review the data concerning different pharmacological approaches with particular consideration of etomidate in order to suppress steroidogenesis in patients with Cushing's syndrome.