Cushing Syndrome: Excess Cortisol

What Is Cushing Syndrome?

cushing disease


Cushing Syndrome is a condition that occurs when the body is exposed to too much of the cortisol hormone or the body produces too much cortisol on its own. Cortisol is one of the essential hormones in maintaining homeostasis and is referred to as the “stress hormone.” It is considered a very rare condition, affecting less than 20,000 new patients each year in the U.S.


  • Overuse of corticosteroids
  • Adrenal gland abnormalities or tumors
  • Pituitary gland tumors
  • Familial Cushing’s syndrome
  • Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) releasing lung or thyroid tumors
  • Excessive stress
  • Athletic training
  • Malnutrition
  • Alcohol abuse


Endogenous Cushing’s Syndrome

Endogenous Cushing’s Syndrome is caused by an abnormality in the body’s cortisol production, resulting in the over-production of cortisol.

Pseudo-Cushing’s Syndrome

Pseudo-Cushing’s Syndrome is caused by medications containing a mixture of estrogen and progesterone, typically oral contraceptives.

cortisol production


  • Weight gain
  • Increased fatty deposits¬† between the shoulders and the upper back (buffalo hump)
  • Fatty deposits in the face resulting in moon face
  • Purple or pink stretch marks on the breasts, arms, abdomen, and thighs
  • Thinning, fragile skin
  • Slow healing injuries
  • Acne
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Glucose intolerance
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Bone loss
  • High blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Frequent infections
  • Extra facial and body hair in women
  • Irregular periods
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Loss of sexual interest or infertility in men
  • Slower rate of growth in children


Your primary care physician can diagnose Cushing Syndrome through a physical examination and a series of diagnostic testing. This testing will include blood panels and urinalysis to assess cortisol levels. Diagnostic imaging can also reveal pituitary tumors or adrenal gland tumors that would lead to Cushing’s Syndrome.


The most common treatment for Cushing Syndrome is medications that limit cortisol production. Cushing’s that is caused by a pituitary or adrenal gland tumor may be resolved if the tumor is shrunk or removed.

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