Cushing Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is a condition caused due to prolonged and chronic exposure of the body to excessive levels of hormone known as cortisol. The disorder is also known as hypercortisolism. The primary cause of Cushing’s syndrome is the use of corticosteroids. It may also be caused when the body produces excessive quantities of the cortisol hormone

Some of the characteristic symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome caused due to the presence of high levels of cortisol include a rounded face, a fatty lump present between the shoulders and presence of purplish or pinkish stretch marks on the skin. Additional symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include bone loss, hypertension and on rare occasions diabetes.

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The many treatments of Cushing’s syndrome decrease the cortisol levels to normal and also alleviate the various symptoms associated with the disorder. An early detection and treatment of Cushing’s syndrome increases the chances of a complete recovery from the disease.

Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome

The symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome tend to differ from one affected person to another.

The common signs and symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include changes of the skin and progressive obesity such as:

  • Decreased rate of healing of bruises, infections, insect bites and wounds
  • Increased deposits of fatty tissue and gain in weight, especially in the upper back and midsection regions, between the shoulders (causing a buffalo hump) and in the face (causing a moon face)
  • The skin becomes very delicate and thin and is prone to easy bruising
  • Increased occurrence of acne
  • The skin on the thighs, arms, breasts and abdomen may develop purple or pink stretch marks

Men with Cushing’s syndrome may elicit the following symptoms:

  • Diminished levels of fertility
  • Diminished sex drive or libido
  • Presence of erectile dysfunction

Women with Cushing’s syndrome may elicit the following symptoms:

  • Missing or irregular menstrual periods
  • More visible and thicker presence of facial and body hair

Some other signs of Cushing’s syndrome are as follows:

  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Anxiety, depression and increased irritability
  • Weakness of the muscles, poor muscle mass
  • Bone loss resulting in increased cases of fractures with passage of time
  • Lack of control over emotions
  • A new or heightened case of hypertension
  • Cognitive problems
  • Headache
  • Intolerance to glucose that may increase the risk to developing diabetes
  • Increased risk to infections


Cushing’s syndrome is caused due to the presence of increased levels of the hormone cortisol in the body. The endocrine system consists of a number of glands such as the pituitary gland, parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pancreas, testicles in men, ovaries in women, and the thyroid gland. These glands manufacture different hormones like cortisol that control the many processes of the body.

Cortisol plays an important role in various body processes such as regulation of proteins, fats and carbohydrates metabolism, regulation of blood pressure leading to optimum functioning of the cardiovascular system, and control of the body’s response system to stress.

  • Cushing’s syndrome may be caused due to exogenous reasons that raise the levels of cortisol in the body. The intake of increase quantities of corticosteroid medications over prolonged periods can result in heightened cortisol levels, leading to development of Cushing’s syndrome.
  • Corticosteroid medications are generally prescribed to treat conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. The prescription dose of such medications is usually higher than the normal amounts needed by the body, which in turn increases the levels of cortisol in the body, leading to development of Cushing’s syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome may also be caused due to endogenous reasons wherein the different glands of the endocrine system produce excess levels of cortisol hormone. This may happen due to the following reasons:

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  • A benign tumor of the pituitary gland that is situated at the lower part of the brain may result in excess secretion of ACTH. This is turn triggers the excess production of cortisol by the adrenal glands. It is the most common type of Cushing’s syndrome caused due to endogenous reasons and generally tends to affect more women than men.
  • In rare cases, a tumor of certain organs that do not secrete ACTH causes the tumor to commence the excess production of the hormone. This can eventually result in the development of Cushing’s syndrome. Such tumors can generally affect organs such as the pancreas, the lung, and the thymus or thyroid gland, and be either cancerous or benign in nature.
  • On rare occasions, individuals may inherit an affinity for developing tumors of any of the glands of the endocrine system, increasing the risk to developing Cushing’s syndrome.
  • Presence of other disorders affecting the adrenal glands may also lead to excess production of cortisol

Treatment of Cushing’s syndrome

The treatment of Cushing’s syndrome is aimed at reducing the levels of cortisol in the body preventing the complications that arise due to the disorder. Some of the treatments include:

  • Surgery to remove the tumors affecting cortisol production
  • Reduction in the use of corticosteroid medications
  • Medications to directly control the production of cortisol hormone
  • Radiation therapy to destroy the tumors causing increased cortisol production and Cushing’s syndrome.

Cushing Syndrome pictures

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