Cushing's syndrome

What is Cushing's syndrome?

Cushing's syndrome is a disease that occurs due to chronic and excessive production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is naturally synthesised in the human body by the adrenal glands and helps with regulating blood pressure, converting food into energy, controlling the immune system’s inflammatory response and handling stress. Overproduction of cortisol can result from several things, commonly the use corticosteroid medications over a long period. If left untreated, Cushing’s syndrome can cause problems.

What are the symptoms of Cushing's syndrome?

The disease presents either over time or suddenly. The most important change is weight gain and increased body fat.

Other symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include:

  • Purple stretch marks
  • Skin that is easily bruised
  • Fatigue
  • Acne
  • Muscle weakness
  • A swollen and puffy face
  • High blood pressure

How is Cushing's syndrome diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome can be difficult, particularly if the patient has not been taking steroid medication. This is because the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome can be similar to other conditions. If suspected after a physical examination, the cortisol level in your body will be measured by doing a blood, urine and saliva test.

What are the causes of Cushing's syndrome?

The main cause of Cushing’s syndrome is an overproduction of the hormone cortisol. This can result from:

  • Taking corticosteroid medications
  • High levels of stress
  • Malnutrition
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression and panic disorders
  • Intensive athletic training
  • Tumours (pituitary gland, adrenal gland)

Can Cushing’s syndrome be prevented?

The only way to prevent Cushing’s syndrome caused by corticosteroid medication is to avoid taking this type of medication, if possible.

Treatments for Cushing's syndrome

Treating Cushing’s syndrome aims to control the levels of cortisol in the patient’s body. This can be achieved by certain medications, but if the cause is a tumour, for example, this will need to be treated by either surgery, medication, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Which specialist treats Cushing’s syndrome?

Cushing's syndrome is usually treated by endocrinologists.

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