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What Is Cushing's Syndrome?

Posted by Tara Cohen on Oct, Tue 30, 2012

If you ever watched the TV show “House,” you’re familiar with the term “Cushing’s.” It seemed that on every other episode, Dr. House and his team suspected a patient had Cushing’s. In real life, however, Cushing’s Syndrome and Cushing’s Disease, a disorder caused by a form of Cushing’s Syndrome, are extremely rare, with incidence rates of just one or two cases for every million people.

What is Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s Syndrome is the disorder associated with high levels of glucocorticoids, primarily cortisol, which are hormones that the adrenal cortex naturally secretes in response to the release of ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) from the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is stimulated to produce these secretions by CRH secretions in the hypothalamus. It’s pretty confusing for a layperson. But ultimately, what it all means is that with Cushing’s Syndrome, the body’s glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, are way too high, and these hormones have tremendous impacts on the immune system and one’s metabolism.

Cushing’s Syndrome has a few different causes, one of which is a pituitary tumor. In this case, the proper term is Cushing’s Disease. Other causes include over-secretion of cortisol by the adrenal gland, over-secretion of ACTH by the pituitary gland, and ACTH secretion from an abnormal location such as a tumor somewhere other than the pituitary gland. Cushing’s Syndrome can also be caused by the use of corticosteroids, which are sometimes prescribed to treat other medical issues.

When people have Cushing’s Syndrome, including those with Cushing’s Disease, they typically experience significant weight gain, particularly in the midsection, face, and between the shoulders, but not in the limbs. They tend to have striations on the abdomen, breasts, thighs, and/or arms that look like pink or purple stretch marks. People with Cushing’s Syndrome bruise very easily and heal from cuts and infections slowly. They may also experience extreme fatigue, depression, emotional instability, impaired cognitive function, high blood pressure, and headaches.

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Tags: cushings syndrome, cushings disease

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