Cushing syndrome is a complex endocrine disorder characterized by prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. This condition can affect various parts of the body and significantly impact overall health. In this blog, we’ll delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for Cushing syndrome.


What is Cushing Syndrome?

Cushing syndrome occurs when the body’s tissues are exposed to excessive cortisol levels over an extended period. Cortisol is essential for numerous bodily functions, including metabolism regulation, immune response modulation, and stress response management. However, too much cortisol can lead to a range of health issues.


Causes of Cushing Syndrome:

The causes can be broadly classified into endogenous and exogenous factors:

  1. Endogenous Causes:
    • Pituitary Adenomas: These benign tumors in the pituitary gland produce excessive adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), stimulating the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. This condition is known as Cushing’s disease.
    • Ectopic ACTH Syndrome: Certain tumors outside the pituitary gland (often in the lungs or pancreas) can produce ACTH, leading to increased cortisol production.
    • Adrenal Tumors: Benign or malignant tumors in the adrenal glands can directly increase cortisol production.
  2. Exogenous Causes:
    • Glucocorticoid Medications: Long-term use of corticosteroid medications, commonly prescribed for conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, can lead to Cushing syndrome.


Symptoms of Cushing Syndrome:

It presents a wide array of symptoms due to the widespread effects of cortisol on the body. Common symptoms include:

  • Weight Gain: Particularly around the abdomen, face (often described as “moon face”), and upper back (buffalo hump).
  • Skin Changes: Thinning skin, easy bruising, purple or pink stretch marks (striae) on the abdomen, thighs, breasts, and arms.
  • Muscle Weakness: Proximal muscle weakness, particularly in the thighs and upper arms.
  • Bone Health Issues: Osteoporosis, leading to an increased risk of fractures.
  • High Blood Pressure: Elevated cortisol levels can contribute to hypertension.
  • Diabetes: Cortisol can increase blood sugar levels, leading to diabetes or worsening existing diabetes.
  • Mood Changes: Depression, anxiety, and irritability.
  • Reproductive Issues: Irregular menstrual periods in women and decreased libido or erectile dysfunction in men.


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Diagnosis of Cushing Syndrome:

Diagnosing Cushing syndrome involves several steps:

  1. Medical History and Physical Exam: A thorough medical history and physical examination to identify characteristic symptoms and potential causes.
  2. Laboratory Tests:
    • 24-Hour Urinary Free Cortisol Test: Measures the amount of cortisol in the urine over 24 hours.
    • Dexamethasone Suppression Test: Measures how cortisol levels change in response to dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid.
    • Salivary Cortisol Levels: Late-night salivary cortisol levels can indicate abnormal cortisol production.
  3. Imaging Studies: CT scans or MRI to identify tumors in the pituitary or adrenal glands.
  4. Petrosal Sinus Sampling: In some cases, blood samples from the veins draining the pituitary gland can help confirm the source of excessive ACTH production.


Treatment Options:

Treatment for Cushing syndrome depends on the underlying cause:

  1. Surgery: The primary treatment for tumors causing Cushing syndrome is surgical removal. This includes removing pituitary adenomas (transsphenoidal surgery) or adrenal tumors (adrenalectomy).
  2. Medications:
    • Steroidogenesis Inhibitors: Medications like ketoconazole, metyrapone, and mitotane can reduce cortisol production.
    • Glucocorticoid Receptor Antagonists: Mifepristone can block the effects of cortisol in the body.
    • Pituitary-Targeted Medications: Drugs like pasireotide can reduce ACTH production from pituitary tumors.
  3. Radiation Therapy: In cases where surgery is not feasible or residual tumor tissue remains, radiation therapy can be used to target and reduce tumor size.
  4. Lifestyle Changes: Managing blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and bone health through diet, exercise, and medications is essential for overall health.


Living with Cushing Syndrome:

Managing Cushing syndrome involves regular follow-ups with doctors to monitor cortisol levels and adjust treatment plans as needed. Support from family, friends, and patient support groups can also be invaluable in coping with the physical and emotional challenges of the condition.

Cushing syndrome is a complex disorder that requires a multifaceted approach for diagnosis and treatment. Early recognition and appropriate management are crucial for improving outcomes and enhancing the quality of life for individuals affected by this condition. If you suspect you or a loved one may have Cushing syndrome, consult a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan.


To consult a Doctor at Sparsh Diagnostic Centre, call our helpline number 9830117733.





No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.



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