Cushing Syndrome: Symptom, Cause and Treatment

Cushing syndrome is when cortisol levels increase beyond the normal range. The disease has serious symptoms but recovery is very likely with early treatment.

Exposure to hormone cortisol in great amounts for long durations is the primary reason for Cushing syndrome. The condition is often accompanied with elevated blood pressure levels, diabetes and severe infections. It is treatable and medications are available which can bring back the level of cortisol produced by the body to regular levels. However, the treatments are most effective if the condition is diagnosed quickly and treatment is started right away.


What Are the Symptoms?

The most common symptoms are:

  • Rounded face (also known as moon face)
  • Sluggish rate of growth amongst children
  • Loss of fat around the legs and arms and building up of fat around the trunk
  • Various skin infections
  • Purplish marks over the outer skin of breasts and thighs
  • Thinning of skin which causes the skin to get bruised often
  • Constant backache even without indulging in any stressful physical activity
  • Pain in bones
  • Fat accumulation above the collar bone
  • Regular spinal and rib fractures as a result of thin bones
  • Loss of muscular strength in the shoulders

Apart from these symptoms, women also complain about:

  • Irregular periods
  • High growth rate of hair around the chest, thighs and face

Males often complain about:

  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Impotence

Other known symptoms include:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Tiredness
  • Amplified thirst
  • Increased urination

The following picture shows more about what the condition is like:


What Causes Cushing Syndrome?

Corticosteroids are the biggest cause, with people who take medicines like prednisone for long durations the most susceptible to the condition. Corticosteroids are used in the treatment of various diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma while they are also given after organ transplant operations. The medications introduce cortisol in the body.

Sometimes, the body starts to produce excessive cortisol on its own. This usually happens as a result of:

  • Tumor present in the pituitary gland would cause the gland to produce excessive ACTH and as a result, more cortisol would be produced as well. Such a tumor isn’t cancerous mostly.
  • A tumor present in the lung or pancreas which causes an increase in the production of ACTH and as a result, an increase in the production of cortisol. In some cases, such tumors turn out to be cancerous.
  • A tumor present in the adrenal glands can also cause the adrenal glands to start producing excessive cortisol. These tumors sometimes turn out to be cancerous.


How Is Cushing Syndrome Diagnosed?

If you experience any of the symptoms related with the condition, you should contact your doctor immediately. The doctor would first ask about the symptoms you have been noticing and will then proceed to performing a physical exam. The doctor would also ask about the medications you are on and the duration for which you have been taking these medicines. The doctor would ask for tests that check the cortisol level in blood, the sugar level in blood, the cortisol level in saliva and the level of ACTH in order to confirm the condition and to know the cause behind it.

Further tests that might be done to see if there are any further complications caused by the disease or not include:

  • ACTH
  • Abdominal CT
  • MRI of Pituitary gland
  • Mineral density in bones


How to Treat Cushing Syndrome

1. Medical Treatments

If not treated quickly, it can cause various health related complications. The treatment depends on the cause of the disease.

The following treatment is prescribed if corticosteroids are responsible for the condition:

  • A gradual decrease in the dosage of corticosteroids. The recovery process is often slow but signs of improvement would get visible soon enough.

If a tumor in the pituitary gland is responsible, then the treatments include:

  • Surgical removal of the tumor
  • Medications to reduce the size of the tumor so as to make it insignificant
  • Surgical removal of the adrenal glands

In case an adrenal tumor is responsible, then the treatments include:

  • Surgical removal of the tumor (if it is benign)
  • Surgical removal of the gland (if the tumor is cancerous)
  • Medications to remove the tumor if surgery can’t be done

If the tumor is present in the lungs or in any other organ and is responsible for the disease, then medications and radiations are used to remove the tumor or an effort is made to remove the tumor surgically.

2. Home Remedies

Home remedies to tackle symptoms while the treatment is being done include:


What to Do

Gradually increase your activities

People try to return to their normal activities very quickly and end up feeling exhausted soon enough. The condition weakens the muscles and thus, it’s important that you start out slow and gradually increase your activities.

Eat nutritious food

You can lose the extra weight and gain much needed energy by eating nutritious food items. You should also incorporate items that include calcium and vitamin D as you would need both of them to recover your bone strength.

Keep track of your mental well-being

It also also brings with it depression and it usually doesn’t go away even after the treatment starts. You should keep looking out for signs of depression and should contact your doctor immediately in case you feel that you are not feeling emotionally stable.

Treat the aches gently

Cushing syndrome is usually accompanied by debilitating joint and muscle pain. Soothing activities like massages and hot baths along with water aerobics can prove helpful in alleviating the pain.

Do brain exercises

You can suffer from cognitive problems as well. Brain exercises like puzzles and crosswords can help in overcoming these cognitive issues.



The chances of recovery are very high with successful removal of tumor, though in some cases, the condition returns soon after the surgery. In case of excessive use of corticosteroids being responsible for the condition, the degree of recovery depends on the time at which the treatment is started. If the condition is diagnosed quickly and treatment begins early, the chances of recovery remain very high.

Information from Expert and Experience Shared by One Woman Who's Been There:



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