What is Cushing's syndrome?

Cushing's syndrome, also called hypercortisolism, is a rare endocrine disorder caused by chronic exposure of the body's tissues to excess levels of cortisol - a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal gland. Exposure to too much cortisol can occur from long-term use of synthetic glucocorticoid hormones to treat inflammatory illnesses. Pituitary adenomas (benign tumors of the pituitary gland) that secrete increased amounts of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone, a substance that controls the release of cortisol) can also spur overproduction of cortisol. Tumors of the adrenal gland and ectopic ACTH syndrome (a condition in which ACTH is produced by various types of potentially malignant tumors that occur in different parts of the body) can cause similar problems with cortisol balance. Common symptoms of Cushing's syndrome include upper body obesity, severe fatigue and muscle weakness, high blood pressure, backache, elevated blood sugar, easy bruising, and bluish-red stretch marks on the skin. In women, there may be increased growth of facial and body hair, and menstrual periods may become irregular or stop completely. Neurological symptoms include difficulties with memory and neuromuscular disorders.

This information is based on source information from the  National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Tumors that produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) cause the pituitary gland to secrete increased amounts of ACTH, stimulating an overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal glands. This pituitary condition, known as Cushing's disease, causes a variety of symptoms, including weight gain, often in the abdomen, upper back and neck, exaggerated facial roundness and acne; skin may become fragile and thin, bruise easily, heal poorly, and develop purplish pink stretch marks. Muscle loss results in thinning arms and legs, and muscle weakness may occur, causing severe fatigue. Loss of bone mass causes osteoporosis. High blood pressure and high blood sugar, irritability, anxiety, depression, difficulty with concentration, memory and sleep are common. Women usually have excess hair growth on their faces and bodies. Men may experience sexual dysfunction.

Cushing's syndrome is named after Harvey Cushing, a famous neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital who first described it. Patients who have Cushing's syndrome have too much cortisol or steroid in their blood. Cortisol is a hormone made by the adrenal glands that plays an essential role in the stress response. Normal cortisol levels are necessary to sustain life, to maintain normal sleep-wake cycles, and to enable the body to respond to stressful events. Though limited bursts of cortisol are normal, long-term elevations of the cortisol level are harmful to many organ systems. Cushing's syndrome can be caused by either taking too much steroids as a medication or if the body makes too much steroid.  
Susie Whitworth
Cushing's syndrome is classified as a hormonal disorder and is caused by prolonged exposure to cortisol. This disorder usually affects adults between the ages of 20 and 50.                               

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.