Most people with Cushing syndrome are treated and cured. Some health problems may persist after successful treatment. The problems that may continue after the treatment include weak bones, high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
If an individual got Cushing syndrome because of a tumor, they would need to have regular follow-ups with their provider for the rest of their lives to check for additional tumors. Cushing syndrome caused by a pituitary tumor (pituitary adenoma) is called Cushing disease. In adults with Cushing disease, the tumor needs to be surgically removed. Rarely, a few tumor cells may be left after the surgery. Thus, regular checkups are needed to know whether the adenoma has grown again.
What is Cushing syndrome?
Cushing syndrome is a medical condition in which there are high levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a type of hormone produced by the adrenal glands (small glands present over the kidney) in the body. It is also known as the ‘stress hormone’ because it helps the body respond to various kinds of stress. The hormone also helps in:
- Maintaining blood pressure
- Regulating blood glucose levels
- Reducing inflammation in the body
- Converting the food eaten into energy
Cushing syndrome may be caused by certain medications, such as corticosteroids. This type of Cushing syndrome is called exogenous Cushing syndrome. Rarely, Cushing syndrome may be caused by excessive production of cortisol in the body called endogenous Cushing syndrome (something within the body is causing the condition).
Cushing syndrome caused by a pituitary tumor (pituitary adenoma) is known as Cushing disease. Cushing syndrome may also be caused by other tumors, such as adrenal tumors and ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) (a hormone that stimulates cortisol production) producing tumors in the lungs, pancreas, thyroid, and thymus.
What are the symptoms of Cushing syndrome?
The symptoms of Cushing syndrome include:
- Weight gain, particularly upper body obesity (above the waist)
- Thin arms and legs
- Moon face (round, full face)
- Increased fat around the base of the neck and a fatty hump between the shoulders (buffalo hump)
- A slow growth rate in children
- Acne flares
- Frequent skin infections
- Striae (purple stretch marks around half-inch wide on the skin of the abdomen, thighs, hips, upper arms, and breasts)
- Increased bruising tendency most commonly on the arms and hands
- Weak muscles associated with reduced exercise tolerance
- Backache that may occur with routine activities
- Bone pain/tenderness
- Weakening of the bones, which may lead to fractures especially of the ribs and spine
Women with Cushing syndrome may additionally have:
- Excessive growth of hair on the face, neck, chest, abdomen, and thighs
- An irregular menstrual cycle or the menstrual periods may stop
Cushing syndrome may cause additional symptoms in men such as:
- Decreased libido (reduced or no desire for sex)
- Erectile dysfunction (the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse)
- Other symptoms may include:
- Mental issues including depression, anxiety, or changes in behavior
- Frequent infections
- Increased thirst
- Increased urine frequency
- High blood pressure
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