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Diseases & Conditions

Cushing's Syndrome

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.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment of Cushing's syndrome depends on the cause of excess cortisol. If the cause is long-term use of a medication being used to treat another disorder, the physician may reduce the dosage until symptoms are under control. Surgery or radiotherapy may be used to treat pituitary adenomas. Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these may be used to treat ectopic ACTH syndrome. The aim of surgical treatment is to cure hypercortisolism by removing the tumor while minimizing the chance of endocrine deficiency or long-term dependence on medications.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis for those with Cushing's syndrome varies depending on the cause of the disease. Most cases of Cushing's syndrome can be cured. Many individuals with Cushing's syndrome show significant improvement with treatment, although some may find recovery complicated by various aspects of the causative illness. Some kinds of tumors may recur.

What research is being done?

NINDS supports research on Cushing's syndrome aimed at finding new ways to diagnose, treat, and cure the disorder.

Organizations

Cushing's Support and Research Foundation
65 East India Row Suite 22B
Boston, MA 02110-3389
Phone: 617.723.3674

National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 1968
(55 Kenosia Avenue)
Danbury, CT 06813-1968
Phone: 203.744.0100
Voice Mail 800.999.NORD (6673)
Fax: 203.798.2291

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
31 Center Drive, Rm. 9A06 MSC 2560
Bethesda, MD 20892-2560
Phone: 301.496.3583
TTY: 866.569.1162

Pituitary Network Association
P.O. Box 1958
Thousand Oaks, CA 91358
Phone: 805.499.9973
Fax: 805.480.0633

Source: National Institutes of Health; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 10/26/2010...#5497