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Cushing's syndrome

Cushing's syndrome: Introduction

Cushing's syndrome is a rare disorder that results from abnormally high levels of the hormone cortisol in the blood. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands and is involved in the stress and anxiety response, in metabolism, and in regulating blood pressure, among other functions. It is commonly known as the "stress hormone".

High levels of cortisol can impair the body's hormonal systems and result in a variety of effects, including weight gain and fatigue, and serious complications, such as osteoporosis, diabetes, and hypertension.

Cushing's syndrome, also called hypercortisolism, is most common in young to middle-aged women. It can develop due to factors from inside or outside the body. Most commonly, it is caused by long-term use of synthetic corticosteroid hormone drugs that are used to treat inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. More rarely, Cushing's syndrome can also be caused by processes inside the body, such as when the adrenal glands produce too much corticosteroid hormones due to an adrenal tumor. A pituitary tumor in the brain can also be an underlying cause of Cushing's syndrome.

The symptoms of Cushing's syndrome can vary between individuals and often develop slowly. Symptoms frequently include a moon-faced appearance and upper body obesity. Complications of untreated Cushing's syndrome can be serious and include symptoms such as hyperglycemia and hypertension. For more details on symptoms, refer to symptoms of Cushing's syndrome.

Making a diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome begins with taking a thorough medical history, including symptoms and medications, and completing a physical examination. Diagnosis is usually based on this evaluation and the results of blood and urine tests that measure cortisol levels. A special 24-hour urine sample may be tested to determine the functioning of the pituitary gland if a pituitary tumor is suspected as a cause of Cushing's syndrome. Further testing may include imaging tests, such as CT scan or MRI of the brain, to look for a pituitary tumor.

Other tests may be performed to check for potential complications of untreated Cushing's syndrome, such as diabetes and osteoporosis. These can include various blood glucose and diabetes tests and bone density testing.

It is possible that a diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome can be missed or delayed because the symptoms generally progress gradually. Early symptoms may be assumed to be associated with other conditions, such as aging or stress. For more information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of Cushing's syndrome.

Cushing's syndrome can usually be effectively treated. Treatment varies depending on the cause and may include adjusting medications, surgery, radiation therapy, and other medications. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of Cushing's syndrome. ...more »

Cushing's syndrome: Cushing's syndrome is a disorder of the adrenal glands leading to excess cortisol secretion. This means that there is too much cortisol hormone in the blood. It can be caused by an adrenal gland failure, or it can result from a pituitary tumor or other tumor that secretes ACTH which in turn stimulates the adrenal glands to over-produce cortisol. ...more »

Cushing's syndrome: Symptoms

At the onset of Cushing's syndrome, symptoms can be mild and develop slowly. They can also vary between individuals. A classic symptom is the develoment of a round, moon-shaped face. Symptoms may also include upper body obesity, fatigue, muscle weakness, back pain, easy bruising, thinning of the skin, memory problems, and the development of a pad of fat between the shoulder blades. ...more symptoms »

Cushing's syndrome: Treatments

Treatment of Cushing's syndrome varies depending on the cause. Many cases are caused by long-term use of corticosteroid hormone medications for treating inflammatory conditions, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. In these cases, a physician may adjust the dosage of the medication and/or prescribe a different drug. It can be dangerous to ...more treatments »

Cushing's syndrome: Misdiagnosis

A diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome may be delayed or missed because some symptoms, such as fatigue, weight gain, memory problems, and emotional changes can be ambiguous and/or mild. These symptoms can be easily attributed to other conditions, such as aging, lack of exercise, and perimenopause. If you experience these symptoms or are taking corticosteroid medications, ...more misdiagnosis »

Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome

Treatments for Cushing's syndrome

  • Tumor treatments - various treatments aim at treating the underlying tumor causing the disease:
    • Surgery
    • Transsphenoidal adenomectomy - remove pituitary tumor
    • Radiation
    • Pituitary gland irradiation
  • more treatments...»

Home Diagnostic Testing

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Wrongly Diagnosed with Cushing's syndrome?

Cushing's syndrome: Related Patient Stories

Cushing's syndrome: Deaths

Read more about Deaths and Cushing's syndrome.

Types of Cushing's syndrome

Diagnostic Tests for Cushing's syndrome

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Cushing's syndrome: Complications

Review possible medical complications related to Cushing's syndrome:

Causes of Cushing's syndrome

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Disease Topics Related To Cushing's syndrome

Research the causes of these diseases that are similar to, or related to, Cushing's syndrome:

Misdiagnosis and Cushing's syndrome

Cushing's disease can be mistaken for depression: Cushing's disease (or similarly Cushing's syndrome) is a possible misdiagnosis for a person diagnosed with depression. It is more »

Leg cramps at night a classic sign: The symptom of having leg muscle cramps, particularly at night, is a classic sign of undiagnosed more »

Pituitary conditions often undiagnosed cause of symptoms: There are a variety of symptoms that can be caused by a pituitary disorder (see symptoms of pituitary disorders). For example, fatigue, more »

Latest Treatments for Cushing's syndrome

Evidence Based Medicine Research for Cushing's syndrome

Medical research articles related to Cushing's syndrome include:

Click here to find more evidence-based articles on the TRIP Database

Cushing's syndrome: Animations

Prognosis for Cushing's syndrome

Prognosis for Cushing's syndrome: Many cases can be cured. Results depend on the underlying cause and severity of the problem.

Research about Cushing's syndrome

Visit our research pages for current research about Cushing's syndrome treatments.

Clinical Trials for Cushing's syndrome

The US based website lists information on both federally and privately supported clinical trials using human volunteers.

Some of the clinical trials listed on for Cushing's syndrome include:

Statistics for Cushing's syndrome

Cushing's syndrome: Broader Related Topics

Cushing's syndrome Message Boards

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User Interactive Forums

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Article Excerpts about Cushing's syndrome

Cushing's Syndrome: NIDDK (Excerpt)

Cushing's syndrome is a hormonal disorder caused by prolonged exposure of the body's tissues to high levels of the hormone cortisol. Sometimes called "hypercortisolism," it is relatively rare and most commonly affects adults aged 20 to 50. An estimated 10 to 15 of every million people are affected each year. (Source: excerpt from Cushing's Syndrome: NIDDK)

NINDS Cushing's Syndrome Information Page: NINDS (Excerpt)

Cushing's syndrome, also called hypercortisolism, is a rare endocrine disorder characterized by a variety of symptoms and physical abnormalities. (Source: excerpt from NINDS Cushing's Syndrome Information Page: NINDS)

Definitions of Cushing's syndrome:

A condition caused by prolonged exposure to excess levels of cortisol (HYDROCORTISONE) or other GLUCOCORTICOIDS from endogenous or exogenous sources. It is characterized by upper body OBESITY; OSTEOPOROSIS; HYPERTENSION; DIABETES MELLITUS; HIRSUTISM; AMENORRHEA; and excess body fluid. Endogenous Cushing syndrome or spontaneous hypercortisolism is divided into two groups, those due to an excess of ADRENOCORTICOTROPIN and those that are ACTH-independent. - (Source - Diseases Database)

A glandular disorder caused by excessive cortisol - (Source - WordNet 2.1)

Cushing's syndrome is listed as a "rare disease" by the Office of Rare Diseases (ORD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This means that Cushing's syndrome, or a subtype of Cushing's syndrome, affects less than 200,000 people in the US population.
Source - National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Ophanet, a consortium of European partners, currently defines a condition rare when it affects 1 person per 2,000. They list Cushing's syndrome as a "rare disease".
Source - Orphanet


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