Cushing's syndrome
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Cushing's syndrome is a hormone disorder that involves the overproduction of cortisol in the blood. It was first described in 1932 by American neurosurgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing, hence the name.

Cushing’s syndrome is a rare kind of disease. The ratio is only five in a million. It has been observed to occur more frequently in women than in men between ages 20 and 50.

Cortisol is a vital hormone that runs in the blood. It helps regulate blood pressure levels. It helps to keep the blood sugar level normal. It also helps to normalize the immune system. Cortisol also has something to do on how our body copes with stress. Then again, as crucial as it is to be present in our system, uncontrolled levels of cortisol – either too much or too little – may cause several health problems.


Cushing's syndrome is due to too much cortisol. It is mostly caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland produces another hormone, the ACTH, which controls the production of cortisol. When the pituitary gland produces abnormal levels of ACTH, control over cortisol production is obviously disrupted. But wait, this is but one of the many factors causing Cushing's syndrome.


Cushing's syndrome produces symptoms that are due to the abnormal levels of cortisol for a period of time. It is treated mainly, depending on what actually causes the problem.

Cushing's syndrome can be detected through various signs and symptoms.


Obesity is one of the many obvious signs of Cushing's syndrome. Rapid weight gain in the face and the trunk as opposed to thin arms and legs usually occur. The fat deposits are mostly found around the collarbone and at the back of the neck. In case of children, Cushing's syndrome may cause young ones to be obese yet short for their age as their limbs grow slowly.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are also possible signs of Cushing's syndrome. Since the cortisol is not controlled, it loses over its main bodily functions.

Also, Cushing's syndrome may cause muscle weakness, tiredness, fluid retention in the ankles, backaches, osteoporosis, mood swings, and lack of libido among others. Patients who are affected with Cushing's syndrome do not necessarily carry all the symptoms at the same time but several signs develop and may cause some form of discomfort.
cushings syndrome
Image: Cushings Syndrome

Cushing's syndrome develops gradually. At some point, the occurrence of a symptom or two is not enough to suspect a problem. Since most of the symptoms may be associated with every other disease or disorder, Cushing's syndrome is quite difficult to be diagnosed. High blood pressure and diabetes often occurs but Cushing’s syndrome rarely causes them. That is also true with obesity. There are a lot of obese kids and adults but you cannot tell whether they have Cushing's syndrome or not.


Cushing's syndrome may be caused by a number of different factors. The main factor is the Cushing's disease also known as the development of a small and benign tumor at the pituitary gland. Cushing's disease prevents the body from producing normal levels of cortisol-controlling hormones ACTH. It is touted as the most common cause, accounting to about four in five cases of Cushing's syndrome.

But Cushing's syndrome can be caused by other factors as well, rare as they may be. One factor is of adrenal disorders like adrenal hyperplasia and the development of benign tumor or malignant at the adrenal gland. These uncommon disorders at the adrenal gland cause the production of high levels of cortisol, which in turn cause Cushing's syndrome.

Three other factors that may cause Cushing's syndrome include steroids, alcohol, and depression. There is a specific type of steroid that has very similar components with cortisol. Prednisolone particularly causes the problem. It is often used to treat arthritis and certain cancers. Alcohol on the other hand, stimulates the body to produce cortisol. Excessive alcohol intake over a long period of time, therefore, may lead to Cushing's syndrome. Some people who undergo severe depression also produce too much cortisol.


The treatments for Cushing's syndrome vary according to what actually causes the problem. If tumors cause the overproduction of cortisol, then surgery may be required, especially if the tumor is of small and benign kind.

In some cases, pertaining to Cushing's disease or the tumor at the pituitary gland, there are back-up treatments in case surgery did not solve the problem. Radiotherapy may be required to tackle the pituitary adenoma. Although this treatment is projected to be effective, it may be administered on a long-term basis. Also, radiotherapy may damage the pituitary cells, making it produce less of the other hormones. In such a case, hormone replacement therapies are administered. Hormone replacement therapy is also found useful while waiting for the pituitary gland to go back in shape after surgery.

As an option, there are medication therapies that are used to control the production of cortisol. Ketoconazole and Metyrapone are just some of the drugs used to block the effects of too much cortisol in the body. However, levels of success in using them vary from patient to patient.


One good way of preventing Cushing's syndrome from happening is simply minding over your drug intake. Some anti-inflammatory steroids, especially those taken for asthma and arthritis, may have side effects that cause this problem. To be safe, make sure that you consult your doctor about the intake of any of those kinds of drugs.

Other than that, make sure that you spot Cushing's syndrome if it happens to you. Proper diagnosis aids in proper treatment. Do not put for later any symptom of discomfort that you are feeling. It also helps if you are cooperative enough to tell your doctor of your medical history including your health risks.

Some other causes of Cushing's syndrome are not well defined. Some of them just happen. So your next best weapon is to find concrete answers to your suspicions. If Cushing's syndrome is left untreated, it can be life threatening.
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Medication commonly used for these disease:

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