Cortisol-The Complex Hormonal Dance

December 23, 2023by Dr. S. F. Czar0

Case Study: 

Patient Profile:Cortisol

  • Name: Sarah
  • Age: 38
  • Gender: Female
  • Occupation: High school teacher
  • Chief Complaint: Persistent headaches, joint pain, and changes in facial appearance

Presenting Symptoms:

Sarah visits her primary care physician with a complaint of frequent and severe headaches over the past year. She also reports joint pain, particularly in her wrists and knees, and has noticed changes in her facial features, such as a protruding jaw and enlarged nose. She’s concerned about these changes as they have affected her appearance and self-esteem.

Medical History:

  • Sarah’s medical history is relatively unremarkable, with no chronic illnesses or major surgeries.
  • She has not been on any medications except for occasional over-the-counter pain relievers for her headaches and joint pain.

Physical Examination:

  • During the physical examination, the physician notices the characteristic facial changes of acromegaly, including enlarged jaw and nose, as well as enlarged hands and feet.
  • Blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate are within the normal range.
  • Initial neurological and ophthalmological examinations do not reveal any significant abnormalities.

Diagnostic Tests:Cortisol

Based on Sarah’s symptoms and physical examination findings, the physician orders a series of diagnostic tests:

  • Hormonal Panel:
    • Blood tests reveal elevated levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and growth hormone (GH).
    • Thyroid function tests, cortisol levels, and prolactin levels are within the normal range.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):
    • An MRI of the brain is performed, which shows a pituitary adenoma, a noncancerous tumor in the pituitary gland. The tumor measures approximately 1.5 cm in diameter.


Sarah is diagnosed with acromegaly due to the presence of characteristic clinical features, elevated IGF-1 and GH levels, and the pituitary adenoma detected on MRI.

Treatment Plan:

Sarah’s case is discussed with an endocrinologist and a neurosurgeon. The treatment plan is as follows:

  • Medical Management:
    • To manage her symptoms and reduce GH levels, Sarah is started on a dopamine agonist medication, such as cabergoline or bromocriptine. Dopamine agonists work to inhibit GH secretion by indirectly influencing the secretion of somatostatin, which inhibits GH release from the pituitary gland.
    • Regular follow-up appointments are scheduled to monitor her hormone levels and adjust medication as needed.
  • Surgical Intervention:
    • Given the size and location of the pituitary adenoma, the neurosurgeon recommends transsphenoidal surgery to remove the tumor. This procedure is aimed at achieving complete tumor resection and normalizing GH levels.


  • Sarah undergoes successful surgery to remove the pituitary adenoma. Post-operative imaging confirms complete tumor removal.
  • Her symptoms gradually improve, including the resolution of headaches and joint pain.
  • Hormone levels return to normal, and she no longer requires dopamine agonist therapy.
  • Long-term follow-up is scheduled to monitor her hormonal status and assess for any recurrence of the tumor.


This fictional case study illustrates the potential role of dopamine agonists in the treatment of acromegaly. While dopamine agonists are not the primary treatment for acromegaly, they can be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan to manage symptoms and lower GH levels, particularly when surgery may not be immediately feasible or to complement surgical intervention.

The case also highlights the importance of early detection and prompt intervention in managing acromegaly to prevent complications associated with excessive GH production, including changes in physical appearance, joint problems, and cardiovascular issues. Regular follow-up and a multidisciplinary approach involving endocrinologists and neurosurgeons are essential for the successful management of acromegaly.

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