Cushing's syndrome is a rare hormonal problem that happens when there is too much of the hormone cortisol in your body. Cortisol is especially important in controlling blood pressure and metabolism. But it affects almost every area of your body.
Normally, your body keeps the level of cortisol in balance through a complex system involving three glands.
If something upsets this system, your cortisol level can get too high. If it's high for too long, it can cause symptoms and can lead to serious problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, and osteoporosis.
Another name for Cushing's syndrome is hypercortisolism.
The most common cause is taking steroid medicines, such as prednisone, for a long time. These medicines act like cortisol in your body. They are used to treat many diseases, including lupus, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. They are also used after an organ transplant.
You can also get Cushing's syndrome because your body makes too much cortisol. This can happen if you have:
The symptoms vary and often appear slowly over time. You may have:
Cushing's syndrome can also lead to other health problems, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, glaucoma, and cataracts.
Cushing's syndrome can be hard to diagnose because many things can make your cortisol level higher than normal. You may need to see a doctor who specializes in hormone disorders (endocrinologist) to diagnose or treat Cushing's syndrome.
To find out if you have Cushing's syndrome, a doctor will:
A doctor can usually find out from these examinations if steroid medicine is causing the problem.
If you don't take steroid medicine or your doctor thinks something other than medicine is causing your symptoms, you may have tests, such as:
If long-tem use of steroid medicine is the cause:
If a pituitary tumour is the cause:
If an adrenal tumour is the cause:
If a tumour of the lungs or another organ is the cause, the tumour will be removed or treated with radiation or medicines.
There are many things you can do to prevent weight gain, strengthen your muscles and bones, and avoid health problems from Cushing's syndrome.
Eat a healthy diet
Take good care of yourself
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about Cushing's syndrome:
Living with Cushing's syndrome:
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Other Works Consulted
Almeida MQ, Stratakis CA (2011). Cushing's syndrome. In ET Bope et al., eds., Conn's Current Therapy 2011, pp. 653–659. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Carroll TB, et al. (2011). Glucocorticoids and adrenal androgens. In DG Gardner, D Shoback, eds., Greenspan's Basic and Clinical Endocrinology, 9th ed., pp. 285–327. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Nieman L, et al. (2008). The diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome: An Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 93(5): 1526–1540.
Nieman LK, et al. (2015). Treatment of Cushing's syndrome: An Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 100(8): 2807–2831. DOI: 10.1210/jc.2015-1818. Accessed February 23, 2016.
Stewart PM, Krone NP (2011). The adrenal cortex. In S Melmed et al., eds., Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, 12th ed., pp. 479–544. Philadelphia: Saunders.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerDavid C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - EndocrinologyMatthew I. Kim, MD - Endocrinology
Current as ofMarch 15, 2018
Current as of: March 15, 2018
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
& Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & David C.W. Lau, MD, PhD, FRCPC - Endocrinology & Matthew I. Kim, MD - Endocrinology
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