Cushing's syndrome 


Bruising and stretch marks are common symptoms of Cushing's syndrome  

Who is affected?

Cushing's syndrome is very rare, affecting around one in 50,000 people.

Anyone can get Cushing's syndrome, although it tends to affect adults aged 20-50 years. Women are three times more likely to develop the syndrome than men.

People who are obese and have type 2 diabetes, with poorly controlled blood glucose, have an increased risk of developing Cushing's syndrome.

Cushing’s syndrome, also known as hypercortisolism, is a collection of symptoms that develop due to very high levels of a hormone called cortisol in the body.

The symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include:

  • weight gain
  • thinning skin that bruises easily
  • reddish-purple stretch marks on the thighs, stomach, buttocks, arms, legs or breasts
  • fat deposits that develop in the face, causing it to become round
  • decreased interest in sex 

What causes Cushing’s syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome often develops as a side effect of treatment with corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are widely used to reduce inflammation and treat autoimmune conditions (where the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissue).

People who take high doses of corticosteroids, long-term, often have a build-up of cortisol in their blood. This type of Cushing’s syndrome is sometimes called iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome.

A less common cause of Cushing’s syndrome is where a tumour (growth) develops inside one of the body's glands, causing it to produce an excessive amount of hormones. This type of Cushing’s syndrome is known as endogenous Cushing’s syndrome.

Read more about the causes of Cushing’s syndrome.

Diagnosing Cushing's syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to those of other, more common conditions, such as an underactive thyroid gland and high blood pressure.

Your GP will need to know whether you have been taking medication and you'll probably need to have a urine test, blood test and/or a saliva test to measure the levels of cortisol in your body.

Read more about how Cushing's syndrome is diagnosed.

Treating Cushing’s syndrome

The main treatment for iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome is to decrease or withdraw the use of corticosteroids. However, this must be done gradually to avoid any unpleasant side effects.

For endogenous Cushing’s syndrome, surgery to remove the tumour is usually recommended. If surgery is unsuccessful, or it is not possible to remove the tumour safely, medication can be used to counter the effects of the high cortisol levels.

Although treatment is effective, it can take some time to bring the symptoms under control. Anytime from a few weeks to a few years in some cases.

Left untreated, Cushing's syndrome can cause high blood pressure which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Read more about treating Cushing’s syndrome.

Page last reviewed: 25/02/2013

Next review due: 25/02/2015


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The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

jar65 said on 06 May 2013

Hello .. i am worried about my daughter of 22 ... who seems to have symptons of cushings or possible parathyroid problems .. she has put on weight over the last few years and is suffering with spots/boils which are painful, aches , bladder infections, depression,tiredness, the list seems to be endless .. she has had blood tests that have not found probs with the thyroid but high calcium levels in blood, high LDH, and cholestral ... had scan also on thyroid and ovaries .. negative ... but feel that something is not right ... our gp was quite dismissive after these results and said she must be eating too much or its all in her mind!! I must also add that we dont live uk .. but have found the nhs website helpful ... any helpful comments gratefully received

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User725325 said on 11 November 2012

I'm wondering if this is what I may have but if so I've had it from an unusually young age. I'm 30 now and have been big for most of my life. I was a normal weight till I was around 6 or so and then almost over night my weight ballooned. I spent the rest of my childhood on diets and exercise regimes that seemed to do absolutely nothing. at the age of 8 I started getting joint and muscle problems in my legs (which I still have now) which was always put down to either growing pains or my weight. By the time I was 13 I was so ashamed of my size that most days I would eat only one meal and walked at least 8 miles a day for exercise and was still over weight weighing in at between 12 and 14 stone depending. I got to my late teens and got sick of trying so ridiculously hard just to still be so overweight, so I started eating normally and I went up to 15 stone then in my 20's I would go between 18 and 21 stone. As well as the weight and the muscle and joints I also have almost no body hair, and my head hair is brittle and dry no matter how much I condition it. I bruise extremely easily and always have at least 4 bruises on my body at any one time. My skin is thin and dry and sometimes cracks. I suffer from anxiety and depression and have done for as long as I remember. I have the buffalo hump and my face sweats excessively.
I have had so many tests for thyroid problems and all have come back negative. Think I might have to suggest this next time I go to the doctors as as far as I can tell I have almost all of the symptoms.

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trixie1960 said on 06 August 2012

TO PUMPPUMPER if you come on this site again, my advice is to go and get your calcium levels checked,, i had all the things you had and the feelings you had, and once my parathyroid was taken out i was like a new woman, it was only by chance at the sleep clinic of all placed that the consultant, and australian girl, felt sorry for me and said that I should have had deeper tests to check my thyroids, it is sad that we have to duck and dive and teach ourselves to challenge our gp's they are so laid back and uncaring it is aborhant, with the human rights act you can demand tests and do not feel guilty about asking do you think they lie in their bed and night and think about you, no they do not, never feel you are a hypochondriac it is not them that feel rotten. good luck hope you read this.

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trixie1960 said on 23 July 2012

hi, i have just been diagnosed with high testesterone levels and high levels of other male hormones, worried sick. I too have and have had for years all the symptoms associated with cushings disease. I am waiting to see a specialist. Re the thyroid comments. I have just had my parathyroid removed so you should have this gland examined by checking calcium levels. I felt great after removal and lost a stone in six weeks but since the new diagnoses i am gutted again and wonder if the weight will still come off because of the cushings.

Can anyone tell me why a person presents herself to the gp with all the relevant symptoms and they just say you are obese when in fact they know full well there is something more sinister going on. I am so angry at my gp as i have been telling him for years my big fat tummy is not normal and neither is my big fat face. I kept telling him I do not gorge food and am not a glutton but it falls on deaf ears.

God help us if the Conservatives get their way and give the GP's control over NHS budgets. No-one will ever get referred to the hospital because they are not fit for purpose as it is never mind if they get this kind of power. It is only when one gets to see a specialist that things happen. I had a stroke eighteen months ago and it was the stroke unit that took mountains of blood tests as well as the sleep clinic because they knew i was so poorly. My GP didn't even though I kept telling him. HIs response was lose weight.

So anyone out there do not take this type of patronising from your GP demand blood tests as your human rights say you can. Another thing we cannot let the conservatives destroy, the human rights act, it protects us all from the establishment.

Good luck all.

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bubblebell said on 10 October 2011

I have been diagnosed with cushings syndrome due to doctors putting me on steroids and many other drugs and lost kidney function and had to go on dialysis I have been lucky enough to have recently had a kidney transplant and have a better life now no dialysis. I still have cushings syndrome and am too strugleing with my weight even though I eat healthly and go to the gym on a regular basis. I get no help with this condition just get told I am overweight in the doctors note I am catagorised as being obese. That's a laugh because it was a doctor who got me in this state in the first place and ruind my life. I am unable to work have been in and out of hospital for the past 10 years before all this happend I was happy and had a good life. I am also classed as being class two diabetic thanks to the doctor that put me on high doses of steroids to try to keep my kidneys going. When I go to the doctors now all they say is loose weight that's rich coming from them. who got me in this state in the first place. But there it is my story but I am so grateful for the relativesof the person who gave me the greatest gift of all a kidney and a new life plus a new husband.

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Stoddan said on 03 June 2011

I'm 20 years old and I think I have this. I have most of the symptoms and its really quite embarrassing :'( I think I'd better get to the doctors to find out. Would be a relief in a way though if it is Cushings because then I could finally get things sorted out

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chatsubo said on 06 April 2011

er - Cushing's syndrome has nothing to do with your thyroid gland - that would either be an under-active or over-active thyroid gland.

Cushing's disease is either caused by your pituitary gland or adrenal gland (or by taking steroids) as this article makes clear.


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illtoolong said on 29 November 2010

I too have been ill for over 20years. Finally I have found the most rewarding book and it has helped me so much, I at last feel I have some hope. The book is called your Thyroid and how to keep it heathly. read it and see how many of the things apply to you. Good luck and don't give up becauseif you do the only one to suffer is you, the gp's don't care, you'll just be one less for them to worry about.

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Ullswater said on 23 November 2010

I am also a 54yr old woman with all the symptoms of cushings. I have undergone many many tests and still have no diagnosis. I would say I have been suffering at least 10yrs now, I found my family and Drs very unsympathetic and ofcourse probably believed I too am a hypochondriac.
At my last appointment I asked to be left alone and I would try to cope on my own. I have depression and on antidepresants, they seem to help me cope a little but on my last visit my Dr sugested I started to ween of them after Christmas. I must admit I am petrified to go back to how I was feeling before and dread the professionals once again and very poor unsympathetic outcomes.
I have researched and know I have some kind of cushing. I have far to many symptoms.

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gheckogal said on 23 July 2010

Thanks for that pumppumper!
I can relate to many of your symptoms and am wondering if I should check them out with my GP.
Good Luck with your treatment and thank you for your story.

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pumppumper said on 27 June 2010

I am a 54 year old woman with all the symptoms of a thyroid problem. I have been suffering for 10 years and all my thyroid tests have come back negative. This year I have a fatty lump under my throat so my doctor sent me for an MRI scan to check for a goitre. The results are astonishing, I have Cushing’s syndrome. The next test was a 24 hour urine sample and that revealed high levels of cortisone. I am also a chronic asthmatic and have been on and off steroids all my life (born asthmatic) I have put on masses amount of weight even though I eat normal healthy portions of food. I have tried to lose weight but the weight does not shift. I’ve gone from a size 10 to 26 in 10 years, and like I say, I do not over eat and I don’t drink alcohol.
Normal life has been a real struggle and I’ve been labelled as fat and lazy by my family! I think this is also what the doctors assumed and they probably believed I was a hypochondriac too! It has been hard to explain how I feel and when the professionals say there is nothing wrong with me, then fat and lazy just about sums it up! These are my symptoms:
• Fatigue
• Buffalo hump
• Fatty pad under throat
• Headaches
• Stomach pains
• Stiff painful joints
• Depression (Bipolar)
• Irregular periods, sometimes nothing for months (thought that was the start of menopause)
• Thirsty
• Unexplained bruising
• Heart palpitations
• Legs feel heavy and it feels like I’m walking in the sea!
Urinate frequently

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Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medicines and are prescribed to treat a wide range of health conditions

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