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Cushing Syndrome

(Cushing's Syndrome)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2020| Content last modified Oct 2020
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Glands make and release hormones.

Hormones are chemicals that stimulate other cells or tissues into action. Because hormones are in your blood, they travel throughout your body. They can affect many organs at the same time.

You have two adrenal glands, one above each kidney. The adrenal glands release several different hormones that help control your blood pressure, heart rate, balance of water and salt, response to stress, and some male-type sex features.

What is Cushing syndrome?

In Cushing syndrome, you have too much of the adrenal hormone called cortisol.

  • Cushing syndrome is usually caused by your adrenal glands making too much cortisol

  • People with Cushing syndrome often have a very round face, hair loss, depression, and thin skin that bruises easily

  • Treatment for Cushing syndrome depends on what's causing it—you may need surgery or radiation

What causes Cushing syndrome?

Cushing syndrome is usually due to:

  • Your adrenal glands making too much cortisol

  • Taking a corticosteroid medicine such as prednisone for a long time

Your adrenal glands may make too much cortisol if you have:

  • A tumor in your adrenal glands that releases cortisol

  • Cancer elsewhere in your body (such as lung cancer) that releases a hormone that triggers the adrenals to make cortisol

What is Cushing disease?

Cushing disease is a little different from Cushing syndrome. In Cushing disease, an overactive pituitary gland tells your adrenals glands to make too many hormones.

Cushing disease usually happens when there is a tumor on your pituitary gland. Doctors remove the tumor with surgery or destroy it with radiation.

What are the symptoms of Cushing syndrome?

Symptoms include:

  • Large amounts of belly fat and fat at the top of your back (called a "buffalo hump")

  • Round, swollen face

  • Thin skin that bruises easily and heals slowly

  • Purple streaks that look like stretch marks on your chest and belly

  • Getting tired easily

  • Sometimes, extra face and body hair

  • In women, sometimes hair loss

Children with Cushing syndrome grow slowly and stay short.

Over time, if your Cushing syndrome is untreated, you may have:

How do doctors tell if I have Cushing syndrome?

Doctors will do:

  • Urine and blood tests to measure your cortisol levels at different times of the day, and sometimes before and after taking special medicine

  • Blood tests to measure pituitary hormones

  • Sometimes, CT scan or MRI to check for tumors in the body

How do doctors treat Cushing syndrome?

Doctors will:

  • Have you eat a diet high in protein and potassium

  • Sometimes give you medicines to lower cortisol levels, raise your potassium level, or lower your blood sugar level

  • Do surgery or radiation to get rid of any tumors

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