The hormonal disorder called Cushing syndrome is any of a number of conditions in which the body is exposed to excessive amounts of the hormone cortisol. It most commonly occurs in people who are between 20 and 50 years old, especial women. The condition is a particular risk for people with type 2 diabetes and poorly controlled blood glucose.
Cortisol is a hormone that protects the body from inflammation. In addition to being produced by the body, it is often given, in the form of prednisone and other medications, to people with inflammatory illnesses. People who have an excess of cortisol—whether due to too much use of corticosteroid drugs or because the body produces too much—eventually get one of the conditions that falls under the umbrella of Cushing syndrome.
Cushing disorders often lead to obesity and neck fat, and can at the same time reduce muscle mass in the arms and legs. The skin thins and gets fragile, and muscles and bones are weak. There’s no one test for excessive cortisol, but several diagnostic procedures together will point to it, in conjunction with medical history and physical examinations. In some cases, X-rays of the pituitary glands will be taken to look for tumors, though not all cases of the condition are associated with tumors.
People with Cushing Syndrome tend to have high blood pressure, high blood glucose, irritability and fatigue. It can lead to decreased fertility and libido in men, and unwanted hair growth and menstrual irregularities in women. People with hypercortisolism tend to be unusually thirsty, and also to experience frequent urination.
Various types of Cushing syndrome are treated in different ways. Patients who are taking prednisone or other medications need to be tapered to the lowest therapeutic dose as quickly as practical. If the problem is overproduction of cortisol by the body, the cause can be addressed directly, such as a tumor that can simply be removed or treated with radiation.