Cushing’s syndrome is a hormonal condition also called hypercortisolism. Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps control motivation, mood, and fear. Hypercortisolism occurs when people experience high levels of the cortisol hormone. The adrenal glands, located at the top of the kidneys, manufacture cortisol, and there are cortisol receptors all over the body.
Cortisol helps the body with several essential functions, including:
Increased levels of the cortisol hormone cause Cushing’s syndrome. Several conditions can cause a spike in cortisol, including:
Another significant cause of Cushing’s syndrome is using high doses of corticosteroid medications for an extended period of time. Corticosteroid medications, like prednisone, are often a treatment for inflammatory diseases. Injectable steroids, used for back pain treatment, are another cause of Cushing’s syndrome.
Tumors can also lead to Cushing’s syndrome, including:
Common symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include:
Other possible symptoms include:
Cushing’s syndrome can also affect children. Younger Cushing’s syndrome patients can develop all of the aforementioned symptoms, but they might be more prone to reduced growth rates and obesity.
Women are especially at-risk for developing Cushing’s syndrome. The National Institutes of Health report that women are three times as likely as men to have this condition. In addition to the symptoms listed above, women tend to grow extra body and facial hair. Women might also have irregular menstruation, or stop menstruating at all. If a woman’s Cushing’s syndrome is not treated, she might have issues becoming pregnant.
Though their risk of developing the disease is lower than women, men also have a unique set of Cushing’s syndrome symptoms. Men might develop a low sex drive, reduced fertility, or erectile dysfunction.
Taking high doses of corticosteroids long-term can increase the risk of developing Cushing’s syndrome. Anyone who is prescribed a corticosteroid should check in with their doctor to make sure they are aware of the dosage and how long they are supposed to take the medication.
Some medical conditions increase the risk of developing Cushing’s syndrome, including:
Tumors play a large role in Cushing’s syndrome development. Some people are at higher risk of developing endocrine tumors. However, it is impossible to stop the formation of endocrine tumors.
Women are more likely to develop Cushing’s syndrome, although it does occur in men and children, as well.
Cushing’s syndrome has a challenging diagnostic process. The condition’s symptoms overlap with many other conditions. If someone is experiencing irregular symptoms, a doctor will review their medical history and perform a physical exam, which can reveal epidermal evidence of Cushing’s syndrome.
A doctor will also run some laboratory tests:
In order to receive proper treatment, a doctor should try to figure out the cause of the patient’s Cushing’s syndrome. A doctor can accomplish this a few different ways, including:
Ultimately, treatment for Cushing’s syndrome involves lowering cortisol levels in some way.
Several potential medications can reduce cortisol levels, including:
A patient with Cushing’s syndrome might also work with their doctor to adjust their current medication. If the patient is using corticosteroids, they might need to switch medications or lower the dosage under the supervision of their doctor.
If a tumor has caused Cushing’s syndrome, then the patient might need to have the tumor removed surgically. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy can also be an effective treatment if removal is not an option.
A dietary shift can help curb cortisol levels and mitigate some of the more serious health complications of Cushing’s syndrome.
It is especially important to see a doctor if you are taking corticosteroid medication as treatment for arthritis, asthma, or irritable bowel disease. Prolonged use of corticosteroid medication is a main cause of Cushing’s syndrome.
The severity of Cushing’s syndrome will increase if the condition is not treated. See a doctor as soon as you notice any irregular symptoms, so that you can begin a treatment plan right away.
The outlook for people living with Cushing’s syndrome is dependent on what caused the disease. Because treatment is specific to the cause of Cushing’s syndrome, it is best to see a doctor at the onset of any symptoms.
If a tumor has caused Cushing’s syndrome, it is possible that removing the tumor will treat the condition. In any case, the possibility of recurrence is always present.
Cushing’s syndrome is associated with multiple health conditions. Possible health complications related to Cushing’s syndrome can include:
Untreated Cushing’s syndrome can be fatal, but early treatment can help patients with this condition avoid a worst-case scenario.