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Cushing’s Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Dr. Kamran Zaib Khan

2 min read

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Cushing’s syndrome is a disorder caused by having an abnormally high level of a hormone called cortisol in your body. If left untreated, it can be serious. It is also known as hypercortisolism. It may be caused by the prolonged use of oral corticosteroid or glucocorticoid medication. Some examples of this type of medicines include prednisolone, prednisone, and dexamethasone. Steroid medicines consist of a synthetic version of cortisol. Hypercortisolism may also occur if your body produces too much cortisol on its own, although this rarely happens. Cushing’s syndrome is not very common.

Causes

Although it’s uncommon to develop Cushing syndrome because of the overproduction of cortisol, it does happen in some rare cases. There could be several reasons behind too much cortisol. It could be because of the Cushing disease that happens when the pituitary gland produces too much of the hormone ACTH.

ACTH cues the adrenal glands to produce a high amount of cortisol. Sometimes this condition is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland. Tumors in the other parts of the body that produce corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) may also lead to the development of the Cushing syndrome.

Signs and Symptoms

Cushing syndrome symptoms vary from person to person. Some symptoms include a red, round and full face and weight gain with fat loss from the legs, arms, and buttocks and fat accumulation on the trunk. If the patient is a child, his growth rate may slow down.

Cushing syndrome can also result in skin changes such as skin infections, purple stretch marks on the skin of the upper arms, thighs, abdomen, and breasts, and susceptibility to bruises.

The patient may also notice muscle and bone changes such as back ache while doing routine activities, bone tenderness, bone pain, collection of fat above the collarbones and between the shoulders, spine and rib fractures because of thinning bones, and weak muscles.

Other symptoms include hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, increased cholesterol, and hyperlipidemia.

Female patients with Cushing syndrome may notice excess hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen, neck, and thighs, and irregular periods. Male patients may experience low libido. Apart from that, patients with Cushing syndrome may notice mental changes like anxiety, depression, and changes in behavior, headache, fatigue, and increased urination and thirst.

Diagnosis

Cushing’s syndrome is a complicated disease to identify and treat. This is because many of the symptoms for Cushing’s overlap with other medical conditions. Doctors can take some time before being sure of a Cushing’s syndrome diagnosis. This means multiple appointments for you.

On your appointments, your doctor will examine your body to look for any physical symptoms. These may include some fatty tissue on your back between the shoulders, multiple stretch marks all over your body, and a rounding face. If any of these exist, your doctor will consider Cushing’s as a possible cause.

A steroid known as corticosteroid contributes to Cushing’s syndrome. If you have been consuming that, your doctor can use that as a basis for Cushing’s.

There are some tests that doctors can use for the diagnosis. These include:

  • CT scans and MRIs; these tests capture in-depth images of your body organs and structures. For Cushing’s, these tests can show imagery of your adrenal glands along with any irregularity with them.
  • Saliva test; Your saliva can be used to test your cortisol levels. Normally, cortisol levels fluctuate from morning till evening and are very low at night. Doctors can take a saliva sample at night and check your cortisol levels. If the cortisol levels are high, then that is a diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome.
  • Blood and urine tests; Your blood and urine contain hormones and can be used to check your cortisol levels. The doctor may ask you to collect your urine over a day. If there are high levels of cortisol found, that can indicate the presence of Cushing’s syndrome. The doctor can also request other tests as per requirement.

Apart from these, your doctor may recommend going for a petrosal sinus test. This test is used to rile out the pituitary as the root of Cushing’s syndrome. The test samples blood from petrosal sinuses in the pituitary gland and examines it.

Treatment

If left untreated, there could be complications because of the Cushing syndrome. Potential complications include osteoporosis that can lead to unusual bone fractures, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, loss of muscles mass and strength, and unusual and frequent infections.

Most cases of Cushing’s syndrome are treatable. If the cause is medications, they can be stopped slowly. If the cause is a tumor, it can be treated by a surgery and chemotherapy.

If you notice symptoms that are indicative of Cushing’s syndrome, contact your doctor right away, especially if you take corticosteroid medication. You can find and book an appointment with Top doctors in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad through oladoc.com. You can also call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your health concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Kamran Zaib Khan - Author Dr. Kamran Zaib Khan is a General Surgeon practicing in Lahore. Dr. Kamran Zaib Khan has the following degrees: MBBS, FCPS (General Surgery) and has 13 years of experience.
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