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Cushing's Syndrome - General Info

Cushing's syndrome, also known as hypercortisolism, is a medical condition which features with abnormal levels of cortisol, a hormone normally produced by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are in charge of production of many hormones and cortisone is produced in the cortex of this gland. In Cushing's syndrome increased production of this hormone leads to specific symptoms and signs of the illness. Cushing's syndrome may affect people of all ages. Still it is most common in middle ages and it predominantly affects women. 

Causes of Cushing's Syndrome

Cushing's syndrome may result from the presence of hormonally active adrenal gland tumors which produce high amount of cortisol. It may also affect people who are taking corticosteroid medications for longer period of time. This medical condition may be also a consequence of enlargement of both adrenal glands and finally, Cushing's syndrome affects people suffering from hormonally active pituitary tumor.

This drives to conclusion that any medical condition which leads to increased production of cortisol may eventually cause the onset of Cushing's disease. It is also important to mention that corticosteroids which are taken in many medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, systemic lupus erythematosus etc. also cause Cushing's syndrome. This can be easily explained since corticosteroids are chemically similar to naturally produced cortisol.

Symptoms of Cushing's Syndrome

People suffering from Cushing's syndrome have characteristic appearance. Namely, their face is round and red; their trunk is obese while limbs are very thin. Furthermore, there is a presence of distinctive hump at back of the neck which is actually a collection of fat tissue. The skin is covered with acne and there is also presence of purple stretch marks (striae) which most commonly occur on the abdomen, thighs and breasts. The skin is thin and prone to bruising. The bones of patients suffering from Cushing's syndrome are weak and susceptible to fractures. And finally, women may develop hirsutism. Cushing's syndrome in children may affect normal growth and development.

This illness carries increased risk for infections, high blood pressure, high glucose levels and stomach and duodenal ulcers. Patients may also suffer from mental changes such as paranoia and euphoria and they may even develop depression. And finally, patients suffering from Cushing's syndrome also complain about severe fatigue and insomnia.

Treatment for Cushing's Syndrome

The goal of the treatment is restoring normal level of the cortisol in the body. 

The treatment depends on the underlying cause. Surgery is a treatment modality in all patients suffering from adrenal or pituitary tumors. These patients are sometimes treated with radiation therapy. In case of rapid worsening in patients whose both adrenal glands are enlarged surgical removal of the affected glands may be effective in alleviation of symptoms. Removal of both adrenal glands requires proper hormonal substitution. 

And if Cushing's syndrome is cause by a cancer of other site of the body the increased levels of cortisol may be brought under control after the tumor is removed or in case the inoperable patients undergo adrenal gland suppression.  

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