Cushing’s is a rare condition that occurs when a person develops a tumor the drives the body (or adrenal glands) to make excessive amounts of the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone normally made by the adrenal glands and it is necessary for life. Almost every cell contains receptors for cortisol and so cortisol can have lots of different actions depending on which sort of cells it is acting upon. These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and thus regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure and much more. It allow people to respond to stressful situations such as illness, and has effects on almost all body tissues.
- When the ACTH comes from the pituitary gland, it is called Cushing’s Disease. Most patients with Cushing’s have tumors in their pituitary glands, a tiny endocrine organ located deep within the brain structures.
- Currently in the US, many patients with tumors that cannot be removed are left without effective medical treatment.
- It is estimated that between four to ten people per million are diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease.
Signs and Symptoms
Cushing’s Syndrome and Disease are both caused by excess cortisol in the bloodstream. One of the reasons Cushing’s is so hard to diagnose is because the symptoms are relatively non-specific. Listed below are some of the more common symptoms.
This is one of the most common symptoms of Cushing’s. Most people with this disease will rapidly gain excess weight, especially around the stomach, chest, and face. Interestingly, there is little to no weight gain around the arms and the legs. Excess weight is linked to cardiovascular diseases.
As written above, many people gain weight around the face, leading to a rounded or “moon-like” face. It is also common for Cushing’s patients to have very red cheeks.
Additional possible systems:
- Suppressed immune system
- High Blood Sugar and Glucose Intolerance
- Both of these symptoms, if left untreated, can lead to Type II Diabetes.
- High Blood Pressure
- Increases risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
- Muscle and Bone Weakness
- Untreated Cushing’s can result in atrophied muscles and bone fractures.
- Additional symptoms include mental fogginess, anxiety, and depression.
What’s the difference?
There are three main causes of Cushing’s. If excess cortisol is caused by either external steroid use (for allergies, asthma, etc.) or a cortisol-producing adrenal Tumor, then the disorder is known as Cushing’s Syndrome. If excess cortisol is produced by an ACTH-producing pituitary tumor, then the disorder is known as Cushing’s Disease.