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Cushing’s Syndrome

What is Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome, also called hypercortisolism, is a metabolic disorder caused by long-term exposure to high levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, just above the kidney. Cortisol is often called the stress hormone because it’s released during times of high stress, but its role goes far beyond that. Cortisol also helps control blood sugar levels, regulates metabolism, and reduces inflammation. It helps control blood pressure and supports fetal development during pregnancy. But having too much can cause dangerous and disruptive symptoms.

Causes of Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome can be caused by overuse of certain cortisol medication, including chronic asthma or rheumatoid arthritis syndrome. A tumor in the adrenal or pituitary gland can also cause excess production of cortisol. Your doctor can review all your medications to determine whether a medication you are taking is causing the disorder.

Symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome

Patients typically experience rapid weight gain and notice fatty tissue deposits in the face, midsection, and upper back. They might experience fatigue, depression, anxiety, and loss of emotional regulation. Headaches, cognitive difficulties, and high blood pressure are also common symptoms. People with Cushing’s syndrome tend to heal slowly from cuts, bites, and infections. Skin may appear flushed, bruise easily and show stretch marks. Other symptoms include increased acne and body hair. Children might experience impeded growth and frequent bone fractures. Adults may experience decreased sex drive, decreased fertility, erectile dysfunction, or irregular menstrual cycles.

Diagnosis of Cushing’s Syndrome

A physical exam will be conducted to look for rounding of the face, fatty tissue between the shoulders and neck, and bruises and stretch marks. If the cause isn’t a medication, urine, blood and saliva tests may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. A CT or MRI scan may also be ordered to detect tumors or other abnormalities. A petrosal sinus sampling may also be taken to determine whether the cause of Cushing’s syndrome is in the pituitary gland.

Treatment of Cushing’s Syndrome

If long-term use of medication triggered Cushing’s syndrome, your doctor may carefully reduce the dosage over time. If a tumor is causing the condition, you would most likely undergo surgery to remove it. Depending on the location of the tumor, you may need long-term replacement therapy. If surgery doesn’t remove the entire tumor, radiation or stereotactic radiosurgery may also be needed. Medication may also be an option to improve symptoms of excessive cortisol production, but the medications may have side effects that need to be discussed.

What you can expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

UTHealth Houston Neurosciences brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. Your team will share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. You will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion. We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Brain Tumor Types

Acoustic neuroma
Arachnoid Cyst
Brain metastases
Choroid plexus tumor
Facts about brain tumors
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Germ cell tumor
Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM)
Malignant meningioma
Pituitary adenoma and Cushing’s syndrome
Pituitary tumor
Skull base tumor

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.