Continuous Etomidate Suppresses the Adrenal Gland in a Dose-Dependent Manner - A Potentially Life-Saving Intervention
An endogenous Cushing's syndrome, mostly caused by an adenoma of the pituitary gland, is associated with significant morbidity and mortality when left untreated. The condition is closely associated to life-threatening infections, diabetes mellitus, hypertension and increased risk associated with surgery.
For Cushing's disease the first line therapy is surgical removal of the pituitary tumor. Sometimes though urgent medical therapy is needed first. It has been shown, that surgical risk may be significantly reduced if cortisol concentrations are normalised preoperatively. Conditions requiring urgent cortisol-lowering measures are severe biochemical disturbances (e.g. hypokalaemia), immunosuppression or mental instability.
Medical Treatment Options
Ketokonazole (yes, the antifungal agent) and metyrapone are used to suppress adrenal steroidogenesis at enzymatic sites. Both agents carry the risk of postential side effects. Mifepristone, a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist, and pasireotide, a new targeted pituitary therapy, are alternative agents. However, they also have their limits and side effects.
Now that's where etomidate joins the game. Interestingly, etomidate and ketokonazole are chemically closely related... they are both members of the imidazole family. Etomidate is used as an anaesthetic agent since 1972 and became popular for hemodynamic stability and the lack if histamine release. In 1983 a Lancet article noted an increased mortality when etomidate was used in critically unwell patients. In 1984 an article in Anaesthesia first showed a link to low serum cortisol levels caused by etomidate. Until now the discussion continues, whether a single induction dose actually negatively influences patient outcome. A meta-analysis in 2010 was unable confirm this apprehension and the debate continues.
Etomidate suppresses the production of cortisol by inhibiting the mitochondrial cytochrome p450-dependent adrenal enzyme 11-beta-hydroxylase and therefore lower serum cortisol levels within 12 hours. In higher doses it also blocks side chain cleavage enzymes and also aldosterone synthase. It might even have anti-proliferative effects on adrenal cortical cells.
On this basis the idea arose, that etomidate might be a useful therapy for severe hypercortisolaemia.
Continuous Etomidate - What's the Evidence
A review article by Preda et al. in 2012 identified 18 publications about the primary therapeutic usage of etomidate in Cushing's syndrome, most of which were case reports. Review of current literature reveals that etomidate indeed suppresses hypercortisolaemia safely and efficiently in patients requiring parenteral therapy. Moreover, etomidate shows a dose-dependent suppression and allows adjustment of the medication to target cortisol levels. At recommended dosages etomidate is considered safe with almost no serious side effects.
The authors conclude, that etomidate is a useful therapeutic option in a hospital setting when oral therapy is not tolerated or inappropriate.
- Continuous etomidate (in non-hypnotic doses) reduces cortisol concentrations in a dose-dependent manner in both hyper- and eucortisolaemic subjects
- The application of continuous etomidate in Cushing's disease is safe and efficient
- After termination of infusion adrenocortical suppression persists for about 3 hours
- The suspicion, that a single dose of etomidate for rapid sequence inductions might negatively influence patient outcome in the critically ill remains a matter of debate
J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1990 May;70(5):1426-30.
Preda et al. European Journal of Endocrinology (2012) 167 137-143 OPEN ACCESS
Soh et al. Letter to the Editor, European Journal of Endocrinology (2012) 167 727–728
Ge et al. Critical Care201317:R20 OPEN ACCESS
The discussion on the so-called lactic acidosis and its causes have become increasingly attractive over the last couple of years as several biochemical explanations are challenged. A significant confusion persists on the various relationships between lactate, lactic acid and metabolic acidosis.
Most clinicians continue to refer to the traditional understanding of impaired tissue oxygenation causing increased lactate production, impaired lactate clearance and therefore resultant metabolic acidosis. Just recently we had a discussion on our ward round on this topic when a team member presented the most recent article of UpToDate online on the causes of lactic acidosis. The authors state that 'Lactic acidosis is the most common cause of metabolic acidosis in hospitalised patients' and that 'Lactic acidosis occurs when lactate production exceeds lactate clearance. The increase in lactate production is usually caused by impaired tissue oxygenation...'... finally suggesting that lactate is no good!
These statements support the classical understanding that:
- Hyperlactatemia is caused by tissue hypoxemia, and
- This in turn then leads to a metabolic acidosis called lactic acidosis
This biochemical understanding has persisted for decades, but there are some good reasons to vigorously challenge this traditional aspect on the 'bad' lactate. Lactate turns out to be by far more complex in its characteristics and functions, so I decided to try and make a short but comprehensive overview of this molecule.
What is lactate?
Lactate is a small organic molecule with the chemical formula CH3CH(OH)CO2H and structurally looks like on the image to the left. It is produced in the cytoplasm of human cells mainly by anaerobic glycolysis by the conversion of pyruvate to lactate by LDH. This chemical reaction results typically in a blood lactate to pyruvate ratio of about 10:1. And while lactate is produced, NAD+ also is incurred, and this actually can accept protons itself, so does not result in acidosis itself.
Lactate arises from the production of energy by consuming glycogen and glucose.