Cushing Syndrome, also known as hypercortisolism is a type of metabolic disorder which occurs when there are excessive levels of the cortisol hormone, in the body for a long period of time. Excess of the cortisol hormone can either be produced within the body, i.e. Endogenous Cushing Syndrome or can occur due to intake of high doses of corticosteroids for an extended time period, i.e. Exogenous Cushing Syndrome. The condition mostly depends on the stress hormone, cortisol and is seen commonly in women than men.

cushing syndrome

Cortisol also is known as the stress hormone is usually secreted by the outer portion of the adrenal glands and are regulated by the ACTH hormone produced within the pituitary gland. In a healthy person, response to stress, helps to facilitate nutrients and control the amount of water in the body, alters the body’s response to pain and inflammation, and also triggers the liver to raise blood sugar levels in the blood, thereby balancing the insulin levels. But in case of a diseased condition, when the functions within the body are out of sync, it often gives rise to excessive levels of cortisol causing Cushing Syndrome. Also Read: Stress Can Cause Inflammation In Body, Beat It Right Now

Cushing Syndrome is of two types:

Exogenous Cushing Syndrome

Since oral corticosteroids, being anti-inflammatory medications are used for relieving pain due to rheumatoid arthritis, asthma or lupus, the dosage for treatment is often high. Over time the medication can cause the Iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome as an adverse effect.

Endogenous Cushing Syndrome

Excess of the cortisol hormone in the body can happen when one or both the adrenal glands secrete too much of the stress hormone due to tumours which include:

Adrenal Gland Tumour:

Abnormal levels of cortisol hormone due to tumours or irregularities that occurs on the adrenal gland.

Ectopic Tumours:

Tumours causing an increase in ACTH secretion and occurring outside the pituitary gland mainly in the liver, thyroid and pancreas.

Pituitary Gland Tumour:

Benign or malignant tumours that grow on the pituitary gland causing Ectopic ACTH Syndrome.

Familial Cushing's Syndrome:

Although, Cushing syndrome isn’t genetic, in certain individuals it is hereditary and happens due to an inherited tendency to grow tumours on one or more of the endocrine glands

Apart from this, the body can also increase the production of cortisol due to malnutrition, high-stress levels, alcohol addiction, depression, anxiety and other panic disorders.

Risk Factors:

It is easily treatable with proper preventive measures and prescribed medication, but if not treated on time, it can cause:


The common signs and symptoms of Cushing syndrome mostly depend upon the amount of cortisol hormone present in the body which includes:

  • Weight gain and fat deposits around the tummy or hip
  • Developing buffalo hump i.e. fat deposits in between the shoulders
  • Moon face i.e. rounding of the face
  • Pink or purple stretch marks on the thighs, abdomen, hands and breasts
  • Headache
  • Slow healing of infections, cuts and insect bites
  • Fragile skin that bruises easily
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Severe fatigue
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Loss of emotional control
  • Hypertension
  • Acne
  • Bone loss, leading to fractures over time
  • Impaired growth (in case of children)

Symptoms In Women:

  • Irregular or absence of periods
  • Hirsutism (thicker and visible body and facial hair)

Symptoms In Men:

  • Loss of libido
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Loss of fertility

Diagnosis And Treatment:

Since the symptoms are common to quite a few diseases, it is hard to diagnose Cushing syndrome and can often require a number of tests leading up to a long and extensive process. The doctor usually does a thorough physical check-up to look for an excessive fat deposit on the face or back causing Moon face or Buffalo hump or pink or blue stretch marks. In most cases, the physical examination is followed by some diagnostic tests which include:

  • Urine and Blood test
  • Saliva test
  • Petrosal sinus sampling
  • Imaging techniques like CT-scan and MRI-scan

Treatment options mostly involve normalising the cortisol levels in the body, which includes:

  • Prescribed medications
  • Surgery to remove the tumour
  • Radiation therapy in case surgery fails to show signs of improvement
  • Lifestyle modifications by reducing the intake or oral corticosteroids

Some home remedies and change in daily activities can also improve in case of acute Cushing syndrome which are:

Soothe ache and pain by an oil massage, hot baths, water exercises etc.