Cushing syndrome is too much of a hormone called cortisol in the blood. In normal doses, this hormone helps the body manage stress and infection. High levels over a long period of time can cause health problems.
High levels of this hormone may be caused by:
- Long-term use of corticosteroid hormones, such as cortisone or prednisone
Excess production of cortisol from a:
- Tumor or abnormality of the adrenal gland
Tumor or abnormality of the pituitary gland. A
person with a
has Cushing disease.
Tumors of the
pancreas, or thymus gland (rare)
Pituitary and Adrenal Glands
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This problem is more common in people who use corticosteroids to treat problems, such as:
Problems may be:
- Weight gain in the upper body and trunk
- Rounded face
- Severe fatigue or muscle weakness
- Easily bruised, thin skin
- Purple stretch marks
- Excess hair growth or acne in women
Menstrual problems, especially irregular or
- Low fertility and interest in sex
- Personality changes or mood swings
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Blood tests, urine tests, and saliva tests to check a person's levels of cortisol.
Images may be taken to look at the pituitary and adrenal glands and at other internal structures. This may be done with:
Treatment of Cushing syndrome depends on the cause. Options are:
- Stopping or changing corticosteroids
- Surgical removal of a tumor
- Surgical removal of part, all, or both adrenal glands
- Radiation therapy
to treat lasting tumors
- Drugs that decrease the amount of cortisol the body makes or block the way other adrenal products work
The risk of this problem may be lowered by limiting long-term corticosteroid use.
Cushing disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cushing-disease. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Cushing's syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/endocrine/cushings-syndrome/Pages/fact-sheet.aspx. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Nieman LK, Biller BM, et al. Treatment of Cushing's Syndrome: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015 Aug;100(8):2807-2831.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 10/22/2020