Cushing syndrome is a disease that occurs when your body produces too much of the hormone cortisol. It may also occur if you use take too much cortisol or other steroid hormones.
The most common cause of Cushing syndrome is Cushing's disease, which occurs when the pituitary gland makes too much of the hormone ACTH. ACTH stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cushing's disease affects women more often than men.
Cushing syndrome can also be caused by the following:
- Tumor of the pituitary gland or adrenal gland
- Tumor elsewhere in the body (ectopic Cushing syndrome)
- Long-term use of anti-inflammatory medicines called corticosteroids
Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:
Exams and Tests
Blood sugar and white blood cells counts may be high. Potassium level may be low.
Laboratory tests are done to confirm high cortisol level. These include:
Tests to determine the cause may include:
Treatment depends upon the cause. If Cushing syndrome results from the use of corticosteroids, the drug dose must be slowly decreased under medical supervision (if the underlying disease permits).
If the disease is caused by a pituitary tumor or tumor that releases ACTH, surgery to remove the tumor is recommended. Radiation is sometimes also needed after removal of a pituitary tumor. Hydrocortisone (cortisol) replacement therapy is needed after surgery. In some cases, life-long cortisol replacement therapy becomes necessary.
Surgery is often used to treat Cushing syndrome due to an adrenal tumor. If the tumor cannot be removed, certain medications can help block the release of cortisol.
Tumor removal may lead to full recovery, but there is a chance that the condition will return. Survival for people with ectopic tumors depends upon the overall outcome associated with the particular tumor type. Untreated, Cushing syndrome can lead to death.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of Cushing syndrome.
Arnaldi G, Angeli A, Atkinson AB, et al. Diagnosis and complications of Cushing's syndrome: A consensus statement. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003;88-5595-5602.
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