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Articles » NINDS Cushing's Syndrome Information Page: NINDS

NINDS Cushing's Syndrome Information Page: NINDS

Article title: NINDS Cushing's Syndrome Information Page: NINDS

Conditions: Cushing's Syndrome

What is Cushing's Syndrome?
Cushing's syndrome, also called hypercortisolism, is a rare endocrine disorder characterized by a variety of symptoms and physical abnormalities. It may be caused by either prolonged exposure of the body's tissues to high levels of the hormone cortisol or by the overproduction of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a natural substance produced by the adrenal gland. It can also be produced synthetically. Common features of Cushing's syndrome include upper body obesity, severe fatigue and muscle weakness, high blood pressure, backache, elevated blood sugar, easy bruising, and bluish-red stretch marks on the skin. In women, there may be increased growth of facial and body hair, and menstrual periods may become irregular or stop completely. Exposure to too much cortisol can occur for different reasons such as long-term use of glucocorticoid hormones to treat inflammatory illnesses; pituitary adenomas (benign tumors of the pituitary glands) which secrete increased amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH); ectopic ACTH syndrome (a condition in which ACTH is produced by various types of potentially malignant tumors that occur in different parts of the body); and adrenal tumors (tumors of the adrenal glands).

Is there any treatment?
Treatment of Cushing's syndrome depends on the cause of the overproduction of cortisol. If the cause is long-term use of a medication being used to treat another disorder, the physician may reduce the dosage until symptoms are under control. Surgery or radiotherapy may be used to treat pituitary adenomas. Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these may be used to treat ectopic ACTH syndrome. The aim of treatment is to cure the hypercortisolism and to eliminate any tumor that threatens the individual's health, while minimizing the chance of endocrine deficiency or long-term dependence on medications.

What is the prognosis?
The prognosis for individuals with Cushing's syndrome varies depending on the cause of overproduction of cortisol. With treatment, most individuals with Cushing's syndrome show significant improvement, while improvement for others may be complicated by various aspects of the causative illness. Some kinds of tumors may recur. Most cases of Cushing's can be cured.

What research is being done?
NINDS supports research on Cushing's syndrome aimed at finding new ways to diagnose, treat, and cure the disorder.

Selected references

Asbury, A, et al (eds)
Diseases of the Nervous System: Clinical Neurobiology , vols. I & II, 2nd edition, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, pp. 191, 574-575 (vol. I), pp. 1526-1527 (vol. II) (1992)

Bradley, W, et al (eds)
Neurology in Clinical Practice: Principles of Diagnosis and Management vols. I & II, 2nd edition, Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, pp. 753-754, 758 (vol. I), p. 926 (vol. II) (1996)

Orth, D.
Cushing's Syndrome New England Journal of Medicine, 332:12; 791-803 (March 23, 1995)

Rowland, L (ed)
Merritt's Textbook of Neurology 9th edition, Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, pp. 888-889, 898 (1995)


Cushing's Support and Research Foundation
65 East India Row
Suite 22B
Boston, MA 02110-3389
Tel: 617-723-3674
Fax: same as phone

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 8923
(100 Route 37)
New Fairfield, CT 06812-8923
Tel: 203-746-6518 800-999-NORD (6673)
Fax: 203-746-6481

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHBLI)
National Institutes of Health
Bldg. 31, Rm. 4A21
Bethesda, MD 20892
Tel: 301-592-8573 800-575-WELL (-9355)

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
National Institutes of Health
Bldg. 31, Rm. 2A32
Bethesda, MD 20892-2425
Tel: 301-496-5133 800-370-2943

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
National Institutes of Health
Bldg. 31, Rm. 9A04
Bethesda, MD 20892-2560
Tel: 301-496-3583

This fact sheet is in the public domain. You may copy it.Provided by:
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892


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