What is Cushing's

Cushing's disease describes the condition resulting from too much exposure to steroid hormones.

The commonest cause of Cushing's syndrome (apart from the use of synthetic steroids to treat other conditions) is Cushing's disease. This is a problem arising in the Pituitary gland caused by a tumour which overproduces a hormone called ACTH. This in turn stimulates the Adrenal glands to overproduce the steroid hormone cortisol. Cushing's syndrome can also be caused by a small growth in one, or both, of the adrenal glands.

Cushing's is rare and is more often found in women than in men. It can affect all age groups, but the peak incidence is in middle age.

Typical symptoms

  • behaviourial changes, depression and mood swings, occasionally psychological problems can be severe
  • face tends to be rounder (moon face) and redder
  • weight gain around the trunk (central obesity)
  • muscle wasting and proximal myopathy (patients have difficulty standing from a seated position without use of arms)
  • tendency to bruise easily
  • appearance of red 'stretch marks' on the abdomen, similar to those which occur during pregnancy
  • irregular periods (Oligomenorrhoea) or loss of normal menstrual function (Amenorrhoea) - females
  • impotence - males
  • reduced fertility
  • decrease in sex drive
  • increase in hair growth on the face and body (hirsutism)
  • increase in blood pressure
  • development of mild diabetes mellitus

Because Cushing's progresses slowly and gradually in most cases, it can go unrecognised for some time.