Hormones help regulate various functions within our body. However, when the equilibrium of hormones is disrupted, and certain hormones exceed their normal levels, it can lead to multiple health complications.
Hypercortisolism, or Cushing’s syndrome, is a rare hormonal disorder caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of cortisol hormone in the body. Cortisol is a hormone the adrenal glands produce on top of the kidneys. The hormone helps to regulate various body functions, including metabolism and immune response.
Causes of Cushing’s Syndrome
You can get Cushing’s syndrome due to excessive cortisol in your body. Prolonged use of glucocorticoids can also cause Cushing’s syndrome. Some of the significant causes of Cushing’s Syndrome:
- Adrenal Tumours- The most common cause of Cushing’s Syndrome is the presence of adenomas in one or both adrenal glands, which leads to excessive cortisol production, disrupting the body’s hormonal balance.
- Pituitary Tumours- Pituitary adenomas overproduce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), stimulating the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol.
- Long-term Corticosteroid Use- Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone or dexamethasone, for treating conditions like asthma, arthritis, or autoimmune diseases, can induce Cushing’s Syndrome.
- Familial Cushing’s Syndrome- In rare cases, there might be a genetic predisposition to develop Cushing’s Syndrome.
- Ectopic ACTH Production- In some cases, tumours outside the pituitary gland, like in the lungs or pancreas, produce ACTH, leading to increased cortisol levels.
- Primary Macronodular Adrenal Hyperplasia (PMAH)- A rare genetic condition where multiple nodules develop in the adrenal glands, causing excessive cortisol production.
- Chronic Corticosteroid Use- Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications, prescribed for conditions like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, or autoimmune diseases, can cause iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome.
- Adrenocortical Carcinoma- A rare cancerous tumour of the adrenal glands that can produce excessive cortisol.
It’s necessary to identify the specific cause of Cushing’s Syndrome for proper treatment.
Symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome
The symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome can vary depending on the level of cortisol, but they often include:
- Weight Gain- Especially in the upper body (trunk) and face (moon face), while the limbs remain relatively slender.
- Muscle Weakness– Muscles may weaken, leading to difficulty performing daily activities.
- Thin Skin– Skin becomes thin and fragile, making it prone to bruising and slow wound healing.
- Fatigue– Persistent fatigue and weakness, despite adequate rest.
- Glucose Intolerance– Increased blood sugar levels, leading to diabetes or worsening of existing diabetes.
- High Blood Pressure– Hypertension is expected due to the effects of excess cortisol on blood vessels.
- Mood Changes– Anxiety, depression, irritability, and mood swings may occur.
- Buffalo Hump– A fatty hump between the shoulders due to fat deposits.
- Menstrual Irregularities– Women may experience irregular or absent periods (amenorrhea).
- Hirsutism– Excessive hair growth in women, often on the face, chest, and back.
- Osteoporosis– Loss of bone density, leading to an increased risk of fractures.
- Purple Striae– Stretch marks on the skin that are purple or pink.
Diagnosis of Cushing’s Syndrome
Diagnosis of Cushing’s Syndrome may include the following steps:
- Medical History and Physical Examination.
- Cortisol level measurement.
- Low-dose dexamethasone suppression test.
- High-dose dexamethasone suppression test.
- Imaging studies.
- ACTH level measurement.
It is advised to consult with an endocrinologist or a healthcare professional experienced in diagnosing and managing hormonal disorders.
Treatment Options For Cushing’s Syndrome
Here are some common approaches for the treatment of Cushing’s Syndrome :
- Surgical Removal: If Cushing’s Syndrome is caused by adrenal tumours or pituitary adenomas, surgical removal of the tumour is often the first-line treatment.
- Radiation Therapy: In cases where surgical removal is not possible, radiation therapy may be employed to target and shrink the tumours, particularly in pituitary adenomas.
- Medication: Certain medications can be used to manage Cushing’s Syndrome. Common medications include ketoconazole, mifepristone, and metyrapone.
- Pituitary Tumour Medication: For Cushing’s Syndrome caused by pituitary adenomas, medications that specifically target and reduce excess ACTH production, such as pasireotide, can be used.
- Bilateral Adrenalectomy: In cases of severe Cushing’s syndrome or when other treatments are unsuccessful, both adrenal glands may be surgically removed, leading to lifelong dependence on hormone replacement therapy.
- Adrenal Blocking Agents: Drugs like aminoglutethimide can suppress cortisol production in cases where the source of excess cortisol is not surgically removable.
- Lifestyle Changes: For individuals with exogenous Cushing’s Syndrome, gradual medication tapering under medical supervision or alternative treatments may be explored.
Regular monitoring is essential to assess treatment effectiveness and manage potential side effects.
When to consult a Doctor
You can also get in touch with the expert Nephrology doctors at Narayana Healthcare based in your city to get immediate attention and medical support during injuries, health disorders or any other health concern.
Cushing’s Syndrome is a complex and rare medical condition characterised by excessive cortisol levels in the body. It can result from various causes, including adrenal or pituitary tumours, prolonged corticosteroid use, or genetic factors. Higher cortisol levels affect multiple bodily systems, leading to many symptoms and health complications.
Prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment, such as surgical removal of tumours, radiation therapy, or medication, are crucial for managing the condition effectively.
Q. What is Cushing’s Syndrome?
A. Cushing’s Syndrome is a medical disorder caused by prolonged exposure to high hormone cortisol levels. It can result from various factors, including adrenal or pituitary tumours or long-term use of corticosteroid medications.
Q. What are the common symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome?
A. Common symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome include weight gain, especially in the upper body and face (moon face), skin thinning, muscle weakness, hypertension, fatigue, and increased susceptibility to infections.
Q. Can Cushing’s Syndrome be prevented?
A. Preventing Cushing’s Syndrome depends on its underlying causes. Avoiding excessive or prolonged corticosteroid use and early detection and management of tumours can help prevent some syndrome cases.
Q. How is Cushing’s Syndrome diagnosed?
A. Diagnosing Cushing’s Syndrome involves a comprehensive evaluation of medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests to measure cortisol levels in the blood, urine, and saliva. MRI or CT scans may also be performed.
Q. Can Cushing’s Syndrome recur after treatment?
A. In some cases, Cushing’s Syndrome can recur, especially if the initial treatment was not entirely successful or if there is a re-growth of tumours. Regular monitoring is crucial to detect any recurrence.