Secondary diabetes associated with principal endocrinopathies: the impact of new treatment modalities

Acta Diabetol. 2009 Jun;46(2):85-95. doi: 10.1007/s00592-009-0112-9. Epub 2009 Mar 26.


The secondary occurrence of type 2 diabetes with various hormonal diseases (e.g. pituitary, adrenal and/or thyroid diseases) is a recurrent observation. Indeed, impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and overt diabetes mellitus are frequently associated with acromegaly and hypercortisolism (Cushing syndrome). The increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality associated with acromegaly and Cushing syndrome may partly be a consequence of increased insulin resistance that normally accompanies hormone excess. Acromegalic patients are insulin resistant, both in the liver and in the periphery, displaying hyperinsulinemia and increased glucose turnover in the basal post-absorptive states. The prevalence of diabetes mellitus and that of IGT in acromegaly is reported to range 16-56%, whereas the degree of glucose tolerance seems correlated with circulating growth hormone (GH) levels, age, and disease duration. Moreover, a family history of diabetes and concomitant presence of arterial hypertension have been found to predispose to diabetes as well. GH has physiological effects on glucose metabolism, stimulating gluconeogenesis and lipolysis, which results in increased blood glucose and free fatty acid levels. Conversely, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-I) enhances insulin sensitivity primarily on skeletal muscles. However, in acromegaly, increased IGF-I levels are unable to counteract the insulin-resistance status determined by GH excess. Therapy with somatostatin analogues (SSAs) induce control of GH and IGF-I excess in the majority of patients, but their inhibitory effect on pancreatic insulin secretion might complicate the overall effect of this treatment on glucose tolerance. Hypercortisolism produces visceral obesity, insulin resistance, and dyslipidemia that together with hypertension, hypercoagulability, and ventricular morphologic and functional abnormalities increase cardiovascular risk, and persist up to 5 years after resolution of hypercortisolism. Hypercortisolism leads to hyperglycaemia and reduced glucose tolerance, determines insulin resistance, stimulates hepatic gluconeogenesis and glicogenolisis. In Cushing syndrome the prevalence of diabetes varies between 20 and 50%, but probably this prevalence is underestimated, as not always an oral glucose tolerance test is performed in the presence of an apparently normal fasting glycaemia. Again, disease duration, rather than hormone levels, seems to be the major determinant in the occurrence of systemic complications in Cushing syndrome. Due to the impact they have on mortality and morbidity in both acromegaly and Cushing syndrome, these complications should be treated aggressively. In patients with neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) the occurrence of altered glucose tolerance may be due to a decreased insulin secretion, like it happens in patients who underwent pancreatic surgery and in those with pheochromocytoma, or to an altered counterbalance between hormones, such as in patients with glucagonoma and somatostatinoma. Moreover, SSAs represent a valid therapeutic choice in the symptomatic treatment of NETs, and also in this case the medical therapy of the primary disease, may have a significant impact on the prevalence of glucose metabolism imbalance. In thyroid disorders, an abnormal glucose tolerance may be principally encountered in hyperthyroidism. The pathogenesis is complex and scant data on prevalence and severity are found in the literature. Adequate treatment for glucose imbalance is mandatory in these peculiar patients in line with the American Diabetes Association and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes consensus statement. In particular, since traditional insulins have two features that may complicate therapy (absorption profiles, delayed onset of action and peak activity), the new insulin analogues could be of particular interest in the management of the secondary diabetes associated with endocrinopathies, considering the frailty of these patients. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that insulin glargine, given once daily, reduces the risk of hypoglycaemia compared with other formulations, and can facilitate a more aggressive insulin treatment in this class of patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acromegaly / complications*
  • Acromegaly / therapy
  • Cushing Syndrome / complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / etiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Endocrine System Diseases / complications*
  • Endocrine System Diseases / therapy
  • Gluconeogenesis
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Human Growth Hormone / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Insulin / therapeutic use
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Liver / physiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Insulin
  • Human Growth Hormone