Cushing's syndrome is a hormone disorder. Cortisol, in normal doses, helps the body manage stress and infection. However, high levels over a long period of time can cause several health problems.
Cushing's syndrome is caused by extended exposure to a hormone called cortisol. Prolonged or excess exposure to cortisol may be caused by: Long-term use of corticosteroid hormones, such as cortisone or prednisone
Excess production of cortisol by:
Tumor or abnormality of the adrenal gland.
Tumor or abnormality of the pituitary gland. In the case of a
it is called Cushing's disease
Rarely, tumors of the lung, thyroid, kidney, pancreas, or thymus gland.
Pituitary and Adrenal Glands
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Cushing's syndrome may cause: Weight gain of the upper body and trunkRounded faceSevere fatigue or muscle weaknessEasily bruised, thinner skinPurple stretch marksExcess hair growth or acne in women
Menstrual disorders, especially infrequent or
absent periodsReduced fertility and interest in sexPersonality changes or mood swingsBone loss—osteoporosis
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may be done to determine the level of cortisol and find a cause.
Tests for cortisol levels may include: 24-hour urinary free cortisol levelLate-evening cortisol saliva/blood levelDexamethasone suppression test
Tests to determine the cause of Cushing's syndrome may include: Blood test for adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) levelHigh-dose dexamethasone suppression test
Imaging tests evaluate the pituitary and adrenal glands, and other internal structures. These may include: MRI scanCT scanChest x-rayBone density test
Treatment of Cushing's syndrome depends on the cause. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include: Surgical removal of tumorSurgical removal of part, all, or both adrenal glandsRadiation therapy
for some persistent tumors
Gradual withdrawal of cortisone-type drugs under close medical supervisionDrugs that decrease cortisol production or block the functioning of other adrenal products
Work with your doctor to keep your use of corticosteroid drugs to a minimum.
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Last reviewed February 2016 by Kim Carmichael, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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