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What is Hypercortisolism?

Hypercortisolism, commonly known as Cushing's syndrome, is a condition characterized by an excessive amount of cortisol in the body. This hormone, when at high levels, can lead to a variety of health issues, including weight gain, skin changes, and muscle weakness. Intrigued? Discover how this hormonal imbalance can impact your life and what signs to look out for in our detailed visual guide.
H. Colledge
H. Colledge

Hypercortisolism, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, or Cushing's syndrome, is a condition which arises when the body is exposed to high levels of steroids for a long time. The type of steroids involved are known as glucocorticoids, and they may have been produced inside the body, due to an illness, or taken as medication to treat a long-term medical condition. Signs of hypercortisolism include a round, red puffy face, a fat body with thin arms and legs, thin skin with purple stretch marks and high blood pressure. Taking steroid medication is the most common cause of the condition, but other causes include adrenal gland disorders and a tumor in the brain's pituitary gland. Treatment of hypercortisolism may involve withdrawal of steroid drugs, surgery to remove steroid-producing tumors, or, less often, medication.

Hormone disorders such as hypercortisolism are sometimes referred to as endocrine diseases because they involve the hormone-producing endocrine system of the body. Hypercortisolism is one of a number of medical conditions related to obesity, and people with the disorder may develop excess fat on the face, abdomen and above the collarbones, as well as on the upper back, in what is known as a buffalo hump. Tiredness, mood swings, aches and pains, and more frequent infections are all symptoms which may be experienced.

Hypercortisolism is also known as Cushing's syndrome.
Hypercortisolism is also known as Cushing's syndrome.

Some diseases, such as arthritis, require long-term treatment with steroid medication and this can lead to hypercortisolism. Another possible cause is a benign, or non-cancerous, tumor which produces a hormone called ACTH and which develops inside the pituitary gland in the brain. ACTH acts on the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, causing them to secrete excessive amounts of glucocorticoids. Occasionally, tumors can grow in the adrenal glands themselves and go on to produce high glucocorticoid levels. These tumors may be benign, or, less commonly, cancerous.

Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome can include mood swings and depression.
Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome can include mood swings and depression.

The treatment of hypercortisolism varies depending on the cause of the condition. If medication has caused the problem, the drugs may have to be gradually withdrawn. Where a pituitary or adrenal tumor is present, surgery is carried out to remove it if possible.

Sometimes, if a tumor has spread, it is not possible to remove it completely. In such cases, drugs may be used which block the effects of glucocorticoids or stop their production by the adrenal glands. If drug treatment fails, the adrenal glands may have to be removed. As the adrenal glands produce a number of different hormones which are vital for the body to function, it then becomes necessary to take replacement hormones throughout life.

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Discussion Comments

anon998885

)hypertension

anon292638

Hypercortisolism can lead to all except which of the following choices? a)hypertension; b)depression; c)PTSD d)drug and alcohol abuse; e)it can lead to all of these choices.

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    • Hypercortisolism is also known as Cushing's syndrome.
      By: joshya
      Hypercortisolism is also known as Cushing's syndrome.
    • Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome can include mood swings and depression.
      By: Barbara Helgason
      Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome can include mood swings and depression.
    • Hypercortisolism involves the hormone-producing endocrine system of the body.
      By: stockshoppe
      Hypercortisolism involves the hormone-producing endocrine system of the body.
    • Hypercortisolism is one of several medical conditions related to obesity.
      By: olly
      Hypercortisolism is one of several medical conditions related to obesity.
    • The body has two adrenal glands that when properly functioning release hormones that help regulate metabolism, physical development and stress.
      By: Sebastian Kaulitzki
      The body has two adrenal glands that when properly functioning release hormones that help regulate metabolism, physical development and stress.
    • A tumor that develops inside the brain's pituitary gland could be the cause of hypercortisolism.
      By: CLIPAREA.com
      A tumor that develops inside the brain's pituitary gland could be the cause of hypercortisolism.