Cushing's syndrome

Cushing's syndrome is a collection of signs and symptoms due to prolonged exposure to glucocorticoids such as cortisol. Signs and symptoms may include high blood pressure, abdominal obesity but with thin arms and legs, reddish stretch marks, a round red face, a fat lump between the shoulders, weak muscles, weak bones, acne, and fragile skin that heals poorly. Women may have more hair and irregular menstruation. Occasionally there may be changes in mood, headaches, and a chronic feeling of tiredness. Cushing's syndrome is caused by either excessive cortisol-like medication such as prednisone or a tumor that either produces or results in the production of excessive cortisol by the adrenal glands. Cases due to a pituitary adenoma are known as Cushing's disease. It is the second most common cause of Cushing's syndrome after medication. A number of other tumors may also cause Cushing's. Some of these are associated with inherited disorders such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 and Carney complex. Diagnosis requires a number of steps. The first step is to check the medications a person takes. The second step is to measure levels of cortisol in the urine, saliva or in the blood after taking dexamethasone. If this test is abnormal, the cortisol may be measured late at night. If the cortisol remains high, a blood test for ACTH may be done. Most cases can be treated and cured. If due to medications, these can often be slowly decreased if still required or slowly stopped. If caused by a tumor, it may be treated by a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. If the pituitary was affected, other medications may be required to replace its lost function. With treatment, life expectancy is usually normal. Some, in whom surgery is unable to remove the entire tumor, have an increased risk of death. About two to three people per million are affected each year. It most commonly affects people who are 20 to 50 years of age. Women are affected three times more often than men. A mild degree of overproduction of cortisol without obvious symptoms, however, is more common. Cushing's syndrome was first described by American neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing in 1932. Cushing's syndrome may also occur in other animals including cats, dogs, and horses.


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