Know the basics
What is Cushing syndrome?
Cushing syndrome, sometimes called hypercortisolism, is a condition occurs when your body contains high levels of the hormone cortisol for a long period of time. The condition can also happen when your body makes too much cortisol on its own. Cushing syndrome may be caused by the overuse of oral corticosteroid medication.
Too much cortisol can produce physical changes such as a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on your skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, type 2 diabetes.
Treatments for Cushing syndrome can return your body’s cortisol production to normal and noticeably improve your symptoms. It is noticed that the earlier treatment starts, the better your chances for recovery.
How common is Cushing syndrome?
The condition is more common in women than men. It’s most often seen in people ages 25 to 40.
However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of Cushing syndrome?
There are a great number of signs and symptoms of Cushing syndrome that may manifest depending on the levels of excess cortisol, include:
- Weight gain and fatty tissue deposits, particularly around the midsection and upper back, in the face (moon face), and between the shoulders (buffalo hump)
- Pink or purple stretch marks (striae) on the skin of the abdomen, thighs, breasts and arms
- Thinning, fragile skin that bruises easily
- Slow healing of cuts, insect bites and infections
Women with Cushing syndrome may have these symptoms:
- Thicker or more visible body and facial hair (hirsutism)
- Irregular or absent menstrual periods
Men with Cushing syndrome may experience:
- Decreased libido
- Decreased fertility
- Erectile dysfunction
Other signs and symptoms include:
- Severe fatigue
- Muscle weakness
- Depression, anxiety and irritability
- Loss of emotional control
- Cognitive difficulties
- New or worsened high blood pressure
- Bone loss, leading to fractures over time
- In children, impaired growth
When should I see my doctor?
Early diagnosis and treatment can stop this condition from worsening and prevent another medical emergency, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible to prevent this serious condition.
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes Cushing syndrome?
The most common cause of Cushing syndrome is the overuse of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, in high doses for a long period. Doctors can prescribe these medications to avoid rejection of a transplanted organ. They also use them to treat inflammatory diseases, such as lupus and arthritis. High doses of injectable steroids for treatment of back pain can also cause this syndrome.
Other causes may include:
- A pituitary gland tumor in which the pituitary gland releases too much adrenocorticotropic hormone, which is also known as Cushing’s disease
- Ectopic ACTH syndrome, which causes tumors that usually occur in the lung, pancreas, thyroid, or thymus gland
- An adrenal gland abnormality or tumor
What increases my risk for Cushing syndrome?
You might have a higher risk of Cushing syndrome if you have:
- High stress levels, including stress related to an acute illness, surgery, injury, or pregnancy, especially in the final trimester
- Athletic training
- Depression, panic disorders, or high levels of emotional stress
These conditions are considered that can increase the level of cortisol in your body.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is Cushing syndrome diagnosed?
Cushing syndrome has many different causes. The diagnosis is made based on abnormal cortisol levels in the body.
First, your doctor will perform a physical examination and review your medical history and symptoms. They may also recommend some laboratory tests, including:
- A 24-hour urinary free cortisol test
- Midnight plasma cortisol and late-night salivary cortisol measurements
- A low-dose dexamethasone suppression test
After you receive the result for cortisol levels, your doctor still must specify the cause of the excess cortisol production. Tests to help determine the cause may include a corticotropin-releasing hormone stimulation test and a high-dose dexamethasone suppression test. They may also order imaging studies, such as CT and MRI scans.
How is Cushing syndrome treated?
Your treatment option is based on the cause of Cushing syndrome. Your doctor may prescribe medications to decrease cortisol production in the adrenal glands or decrease ACTH production in the pituitary gland. Other medications block the effect of cortisol on your tissues.
If you use corticosteroids, a change in medication or dosage may be necessary. Don’t attempt to change the dosage yourself. You should do this under close medical supervision.
Surgical removal may be necessary if you have a tumor that causes Cushing syndrome. Tumors can be malignant (cancerous,) or benign (noncancerous). Your doctor may also recommend radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Cushing syndrome?
Following these useful tips can help to avoid Cushing syndrome:
- Eat well. A healthy diet can ease some symptoms and prevent others.
- Protect your bones by eating foods with calcium and vitamin D.
- Limit how much sodium and fatty foods you eat.
- A nutritionist can help you make sure you’re getting enough of the right nutrients.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Cushing syndrome. http://www.healthline.com/health/cushing-syndrome. Accessed February 10, 2017.
Cushing syndrome. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cushing-syndrome/home/ovc-20197169. Accessed February 10, 2017.
Cushing syndrome. http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/cushing-syndrome#1-1. Accessed February 10, 2017.
Review Date: February 10, 2017 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019