Understanding Cushing's Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is a rare condition that is caused by prolonged high levels of cortisol in the blood.1

What is Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is a rare condition that is caused by prolonged high levels of cortisol in the blood.1

Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands, which lie just above each kidney. The pituitary gland in the brain sends signals to the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.2

Cortisol has many important functions in the body. It helps to control blood sugar levels and blood pressure and has a key role in maintaining normal metabolism.1 However, too much cortisol can cause harmful effects.

Endogenous Cushing’s syndrome can be caused by the overproduction of cortisol due to tumours in the pituitary and adrenal glands.2 However exogenous Cushing's syndrome is a side effect of taking steroids in high doses for a long time.

What are the symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome?

Symptoms include weight gain, a build-up of fat on the back of the neck and shoulders. This is also known as a ‘buffalo hump’.

Other symptoms include abdominal stretch marks, rounded (moon) face, depression, excess hair growth on the face, chest and back, changes to the menstrual cycle, and high blood pressure. 1

How common is cushing’s syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome caused by tumours in the pituitary or adrenal glands is rare.

Each year, there are only 0.7–2.4 new cases per million. 2 It usually occurs in people over the age of 40 years and it affects four times as many women than men. 3

How is Cushing’s syndrome diagnosed?

Cushing’s syndrome can be difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms are also seen in more common diseases.

Simple blood tests are used to measure cortisol levels in the blood. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans may also be used to confirm the diagnosis.1

How is Cushing’s syndrome treated?

Treatment aims to reduce cortisol levels and its effects.

This is commonly done by removing the tumour that is causing cortisol levels to rise. If this does not work, other options include radiotherapy, medical therapy and removing the adrenal glands.1,4,5 
If you are a patient, please contact your physician for more information.
If you are a healthcare professional from the EU, you can find further information on the treatment guidelines for Cushing’s syndrome here.

Want more information about Cushing's syndrome?

Hear the experiences of three patients with Cushing’s syndrome: Watch Sammy, Ida or Lily’s story here

The Pituitary Network Association (www.cushings.org) have created a site full of useful information on Cushing’s syndrome.

Additional information on Cushing’s syndrome could be found on www.cushingsyndrome.org.

If you are looking for additional information or support, the following patient associations will be able to help you:
References
1. Sharma ST et al. Clin Epidemiol. 2015;7:281–293
2. Raff H, Carroll T. J Physiol. 2015;593:493–506
3. Valassi E et al. Eur J Endocrinol. 2011;165:383–392
4. Daniel E et al. Eur J Endocrinol. 2015;172:263–280
5. Nieman LK et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015;100:2807–2831

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