Cushing syndrome is a disorder that occurs when your body has a high level of the hormone cortisol.
Hypercortisolism; Cortisol excess
The most common cause of Cushing syndrome is taking too much glucocorticosteroid medicine. Prednisone, dexamethasone, and prednisolone are examples of this type of medicine. Glucocorticoids mimic the action of the body’s natural hormone cortisol. These drugs are used to treat conditions such as asthma, skin inflammation, cancer, bowel disease, joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis.
Other people develop Cushing syndrome because their bodies produce too much cortisol. This hormone is made in the adrenal glands. Causes of too much cortisol are:
Cushing disease, which occurs when the pituitary gland makes too much of the hormone ACTH. ACTH then signals the adrenal glands to produce too much cortisol. A pituitary gland tumor can cause this condition.
Tumor of the adrenal gland
Tumor elsewhere in the body that produces corticotropin-releasing hormone
The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and the medicines you are taking. Tell the provider about all medicines you have been taking for the past several months.
Laboratory tests that may be done to diagnose Cushing syndrome and identify the cause are:
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of Cushing syndrome.
If you take a corticosteroid, know the signs and symptoms of Cushing syndrome. Getting treated early can help prevent any long-term effects of Cushing syndrome. If you use inhaled steroids, you can decrease your exposure to the steroids by using a spacer and by rinsing your mouth after breathing in the steroids.
Stewart PM, Krone NP. The adrenal cortex. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 15.
Susmeeta TS, Nieman LK. Cushing's syndrome: all variants, detection, and treatment. Endocrinol Metab Clin N Am. 2011;40:379-391.
Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.