Cushing’s syndrome is a disease characterized by an excess of steroid hormones in the blood. In most cases the disease is a result of high doses of corticosteroid drugs taken by the patient because of some other disorder, e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or asthma. In rare cases, the syndrome develops if crust (the outer layer) of one or both adrenal glands secretes excessive amounts of steroid hormones.
Excessive secretion can cause tumors in the adrenal gland, or a tumor in another part of the body that over-stimulates the adrenal glands. If the tumor has developed in the pituitary gland (see pituitary tumors) condition is called Cushing’s disease, not Cushing’s syndrome.
Symptoms usually appear within a few months. The first symptom is gained weight on the face, which becomes round and red. The body begins to gain weight, pillowy layers of fatty tissue can develop between the shoulder blades, and back take on a round appearance. On the other hand, muscles of the arms and legs in patient are shrinking (hypotrophy), he feels weak, tired and miserably (depressed). The skin may be ”sprinkled” with spots, and on the abdomen or buttocks sometimes purple stripes spontaneously occur (as if the skin is overstrung). Bruises form on hands and legs. The bones are getting thinner, becoming easier to break (fracture). Diabetes, high blood pressure or congestive heart failure may occur, too.
The voice of the female patients becomes deeper, hair begins to grow on their begin as if they are men, menstruation is absent (amenorrhea see). Men become impotent and lose their hair. Both sexes lose their sex drive.
Cushing’s syndrome is a common disorder and affects a very small number of people who are taking corticosteroid drugs for some time. Cushing’s disease is rare, and mostly occurs in younger to middle aged women.
What to do?
If you notice any of these symptoms, consult a doctor. If the doctor suspects that you have Cushing’s disease, you will be referred to hospital for specialist examination. The cause of the disease can be corticosteroid drugs that you are taking for any other reason; in this case, the doctor will gradually reduce the dose and prescribe you, if necessary, an alternative therapy. Never interrupt taking corticosteroid medications without the advice of a doctor, because acute insufficiency (failure) of the adrenal glands may develop.
If the cause is a tumor of the pituitary gland, the tumor is removed surgically or radiotherapy, or adrenal glands are removed, after which patient must take hydrocortisone tablets for the rest of his life (see Addison’s disease). If a sickness is caused by tumor of one adrenal gland, the entire gland will be removed; other gland should compensate for the shortfall.
Doctors will recommend the best treatment for your case. Whatever the form of treatment, your condition will fully recover although, in some cases, recovery depends on taking certain medications for the rest of life.