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Hypopituitarism following envenoming by Russell’s Vipers (Daboia siamensis and D. russelii) resembling Sheehan’s syndrome: first case report from Sri Lanka, a review of the literature and recommendations for endocrine management

C. N. Antonypillai, J. A. H. Wass, D. A. Warrell, H. N. Rajaratnam
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/qjmed/hcq214 97-108 First published online: 29 November 2010

Abstract

Russell’s vipers (Daboia russelii and D. siamensis) inhabit 10 South and South East Asian countries. People envenomed by these snakes suffer coagulopathy, bleeding, shock, neurotoxicity, acute kidney injury and local tissue damage leading to severe morbidity and mortality. An unusual complication of Russell’s viper bite envenoming in Burma (D. siamensis) and southern India (D. russelii) is hypopituitarism but until now it has not been reported elsewhere. Here, we describe the first case of hypopituitarism following Russell’s viper bite in Sri Lanka, review the literature on this subject and make recommendations for endocrine investigation and management. A 49-year-old man was bitten and seriously envenomed by D. russelii in 2005. He was treated with antivenom but although he recovered from the acute effects he remained feeling unwell. Hypopituitarism, with deficiencies of gonadal, steroid and thyroid axes, was diagnosed 3 years later. He showed marked improvement after replacement of anterior pituitary hormones. We attribute his hypopituitarism to D. russelii envenoming. Russell’s viper bite is known to cause acute and chronic hypopituitarism and diabetes insipidus, perhaps through deposition of fibrin microthrombi and haemorrhage in the pituitary gland resulting from the action of venom procoagulant enzymes and haemorrhagins. Forty nine cases of hypopituitarism following Russell’s viper bite have been described in the English language literature. Patients with acute hypopituitarism may present with hypoglycaemia and hypotension during the acute phase of envenoming. Those with chronic hypopituitarism seem to have recovered from envenoming but present later with features of hypopituitarism. Over 85% of these patients had suffered acute kidney injury immediately after the bite. Steroid replacement in acute hypopituitarism is life saving. All 11 patients with chronic hypopituitarism in whom the outcome of treatment was reported, showed marked improvement with hormone replacement. Unrecognized acute hypopituitarism is potentially fatal while chronic hypopituitarism can be debilitating. Physicians should therefore be aware of this complication of severe envenoming by Russell’s vipers, especially in Burma and South India, so that the diagnosis may be made without delay and replacement started with essential hormones such as hydrocortisone and thyroxine.

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