Cushing syndrome

Cushing syndrome occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol for a long time. The most common cause of Cushing syndrome, sometimes called hypercortisolism, is the use of oral corticosteroid medication. The condition can also occur when your body makes too much cortisol.

Too much cortisol can produce some of the hallmark signs of Cushing syndrome — a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on your skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, diabetes.

Treatments for Cushing syndrome can return your body's cortisol production to normal and noticeably improve your symptoms. The earlier treatment begins, the better your chances for recovery.

Symptoms Causes Complications

The signs and symptoms of Cushing syndrome vary.

Common signs and symptoms involve progressive obesity and skin changes, such as:

  • Weight gain and fatty tissue deposits, particularly around the midsection and upper back, in the face (moon face), and between the shoulders (buffalo hump)
  • Pink or purple stretch marks (striae) on the skin of the abdomen, thighs, breasts and arms
  • Thinning, fragile skin that bruises easily
  • Slow healing of cuts, insect bites and infections
  • Acne

Women with Cushing syndrome may experience:

  • Thicker or more visible body and facial hair (hirsutism)
  • Irregular or absent menstrual periods

Men with Cushing syndrome may experience:

  • Decreased libido
  • Decreased fertility
  • Erectile dysfunction

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression, anxiety and irritability
  • Loss of emotional control
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • New or worsened high blood pressure
  • Glucose intolerance that may lead to diabetes
  • Headache
  • Bone loss, leading to fractures over time

When to see a doctor

If you're taking corticosteroid medications to treat a condition, such as asthma, arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease, and experience signs and symptoms that may indicate Cushing syndrome, see your doctor for an evaluation. Even if you're not using these drugs and you have symptoms that suggest the possible presence of Cushing syndrome, contact your doctor.

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