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Open Access Case Report

Primary hyperaldosteronism: challenges in subtype classification

Brian T Layden1*, Allison J Hahr1 and Dina M Elaraj2

Author Affiliations

1 Divisions of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Molecular Medicine, Department of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA

2 Section of Endocrine Surgery, Department of Surgery, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:602  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-602

Published: 30 October 2012



Primary hyperaldosteronism (PA) is a serious and potentially debilitating disease. Detailed guidelines have been written to guide endocrinologists in establishing the diagnosis of PA as well as in subtype classification of PA. The objective of this case report is to present a case where subtype classification of PA was challenging and repeated imaging of the adrenal glands helped establish the diagnosis in a patient with initial normal adrenal glands on CT and MRI images.

Case presentation

We report a case of a 29-year-old woman with an established diagnosis of PA, but unclear subtype, who presented to us for further management. She initially presented for medical evaluation of uncontrolled hypertension and spontaneous hypokalemia 4 years prior. In the investigation of secondary causes of hypertension, plasma aldosterone-to-plasma renin activity ratio was elevated on two separate occasions, and primary hyperaldosteronism was confirmed by saline infusion test. Also during this time, she had adrenal venous sampling done 3 times at multiple institutions yielding confusing results. Initially, imaging by CT and MRI showed normal adrenal glands. To help establish the subtype of PA, we reimaged this patient’s adrenal glands one year later revealing a 2 cm left adrenal adenoma. Laparoscopic left adrenalectomy improved her hypertension and was curative of her hypokalemia.


This case presents an unusual case where reimaging of the adrenal glands led to the discovery of a single adenoma, initially not observed on imaging studies.

Hyperaldosteronism; Hypertension; Adrenal venous sampling