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What is Cushing's Syndrome?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Cushing's syndrome is a condition that results from excessive steroid hormones in the body. The adrenal glands, which are situated above the kidney, produce steroid hormones, including cortisol, which regulates the blood pressure and the immune system. The overproduction of cortisol can leave the sufferer with a variety of symptoms, of which weight gain is the most common.

Cortisol is also necessary to help the body cope with stress and to maintain blood sugar levels. Irregularities in the pituitary gland can also cause Cushing's syndrome, as the pituitary gland can cause the adrenal glands to produce an excess of cortisol. Pituitary problems are commonly the result of benign tumors that can be removed with surgery.

The most common symptom of Cushing's syndrome is weight gain across the stomach, chest and face. However, the arms and legs do not usually gain weight as a result of the condition. The symptoms of Cushing's syndrome are diverse and vary from person to person.

Symptoms can include back pain, headaches and muscle weakness. There may be water retention in the legs, and the sufferer may be prone to heavy sweating. The skin may become thin and bruise easily. There may be an excess of facial and body hair, and high blood pressure may occur.

Other symptoms of Cushing's syndrome include mood swings and depression. Panic attacks may occur, and sexual desire may decrease. There have also been cases of infertility and some psychological problems.

Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome can take some time to appear. For this reason, the condition is often difficult to spot and is sometimes mistakenly diagnosed as another illness. If it is not detected and treated, the condition can lead to heart problems and kidney stones. The weakened immune system associated with Cushing's syndrome also makes it more difficult for the body to fight other infections. Cushing's syndrome is a rare condition, but it can be serious. It can also appear as the unwanted side effect of prescription steroid use.

The diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome usually begins with detection of the symptoms. A thorough medical exam and history must be taken, along with tests to detect an excess of cortisol in the body. Hospitalization may be necessary, as a variety of blood and urine tests, along with scans, are required for diagnosis.

Treatment will depend on the causes of the condition and the levels of excess hormone present in the body. If medical steroids have caused the condition, then the steroid injections will be stopped. Surgery or radiation treatment may be required to eradicate any benign tumors that appear on the pituitary gland. Chemotherapy will be used if the tumor is cancerous. The recovery process depends on the individual case and may last from several weeks to a few years.

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Discussion Comments
By anon86089 — On May 23, 2010

I am 17 and female I sweat a lot and I have issues with hair on my face. I have stretch marks on my arms, side, stomach and upper thigh, I'm not over weight either. I'm 5"7" and weigh less than 190 pounds. I am worried. I haven't had my period in over two and a half months and I know I'm not pregnant. Help?

By anon76376 — On Apr 10, 2010

i am 15 years old, and well, i have stretch marks on the back of my knees and on my hips, boobs and thighs.

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