What is Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s Syndrome, also known as “hypercortisolism”, is a rare hormonal disorder. Mainly affecting adults, anywhere from 20 to 50 years of age, the disorder is caused by an elevated level of cortisol for a long period of time in the body’s tissues. Cortisol helps maintain blood pressure and cardiovascular function and is responsible for helping the body respond to stress. 10-15 people per million are affected by this each year. Cushing’s syndrome symptoms include a round face, increase in the fat deposits around the neck area with thinning arms and legs, severe fatigue, weaker muscle tone, high blood pressure and blood sugar, and upper body weight increase. There may be some depression, anxiety, or irritability. If it is seen in children they will show signs of having slower growth rates and obese.

Cushing’s Syndrome elevated level of cortisol can be caused by many things. Many will develop the symptoms after taking glucocorticoid hormones such as prednisone. Prednisone is famously known for a “bloating” look that it gives its takers. There may be an excess of cortisol due to an overproduction. People that have been diagnosed with depression, alcoholism, malnutrition and panic attacks tend to have higher cortisol levels as well. Adrenal tumors, Pituitary adenomas (benign tumors of the pituitary glands), adrenal cancers, or other adrenal abnormalities may be the cause of Cushing’s Syndrome as well.

Diagnosis of Cushing’s Syndrome comes from a patient history review, a physical, and some lab work. Sometimes x-rays of the adrenal glands or the pituitary gland will be ordered as well, just to test for tumors. There is a specific diagnostic test called a 24 hour urinary free cortisol level test where the urine is collected over a 24 hour day and tested for the degree of cortisol in the urine. Cushing’s Syndrome is shown in adults with levels over 50-100 micrograms a day.

After diagnosis, there are other tests that will be given to determine the course of treatment. There will be tests to determine where the abnormality is and what is leading to the increase of cortisol. Once this is established, treatment will be given.

Cushing’s Syndrome treatment may come in the form of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or some of the cortisol-inhibiting drugs that are available.

For More Information

Cushing’s Support and Research Foundation, Inc.
65 East India Row 22B
Boston, Massachusetts 02110
617-723-3824 or 617-723-3674
Louise L. Pace, Founder and President

Pituitary Network Association
P.O. Box 1958
Thousand Oaks, CA 91358
Fax: 805-480-0633
Email: pna@pituitary.org

Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service
6 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3569
Phone: 1-888-828-0904
Fax: 1-703-738-4929
Email: endoandmeta@info.niddk.nih.gov

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