Cushing's Syndrome

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Cushing's syndrome facts*

*Cushing's syndrome facts by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOE

  • Cushing's syndrome, or "hypercortisolism," is a relatively rare hormonal disorder caused by prolonged exposure of the body's tissues to high levels of the hormone cortisol.
  • Symptoms include:
  • Children tend to be obese with slowed growth rates.
  • Pituitary adenomas cause most cases of Cushing's syndrome. They are benign, or non-cancerous, tumors of the pituitary gland which secrete increased amounts of ACTH, (adrenocorticotropin), a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands.
  • Cushing's syndrome can also be caused by taking glucocorticoid hormones such as prednisone for asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other inflammatory diseases, or for immunosuppression after transplantation. It may also develop because of overproduction of cortisol by the body, or adrenal tumors.
  • Cushing's syndrome is diagnosed with tests such as the 24-hour urinary free cortisol level test, the dexamethasone suppression test, the CRH stimulation test, CT scan or MRI, and the dexamethasone-CRH test.
  • Treatment depends on the specific reason for cortisol excess and may include:

What is Cushing's syndrome?

Cushing's syndrome is a hormonal disorder caused by prolonged exposure of the body's tissues to high levels of the hormone cortisol. Sometimes called "hypercortisolism," it is relatively rare and most commonly affects adults aged 20 to 50.

What are the symptoms of Cushing's syndrome?

Symptoms vary, but most people have upper body obesity, rounded face, increased fat around the neck, and thinning arms and legs. Children tend to be obese with slowed growth rates.

Other symptoms appear in the skin, which becomes fragile and thin. It bruises easily and heals poorly. Purplish pink stretch marks may appear on the abdomen, thighs, buttocks, arms and breasts. The bones are weakened, and routine activities such as bending, lifting or rising from a chair may lead to backaches, rib and spinal column fractures.

Most people have severe fatigue, weak muscles, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Irritability, anxiety and depression are common.

Women usually have excess hair growth on their faces, necks, chests, abdomens, and thighs. Their menstrual periods may become irregular or stop. Men have decreased fertility with diminished or absent desire for sex.

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