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Cushing’s Syndrome – Pathophysiology

Cushing’s Syndrome


Cushing syndrome occurs when your body is exposed to elevated degrees of the hormone cortisol for quite a long time. The most usual cause of Cushing syndrome, occasionally called hypercortisolism, is the use of oral corticosteroid medication. The status may also happen when your body makes an excessive amount of cortisol.

Too much cortisol can produce a number of the hallmark signs of Cushing syndrome — a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks in your skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, diabetes.

Treatments for Cushing syndrome clearly improve your symptoms and can return your body’s cortisol production to standard. The earlier treatment starts, the better your odds for healing.


The signs and symptoms of Cushing syndrome vary.

Common signs and symptoms include skin changes and progressive obesity, such as:

-Thinning, fragile skin that bruises easily
-Slow healing of cuts, insect bites and infections
Females with Cushing syndrome may experience:

-Thicker or more observable body and facial hair (hirsutism)
-Irregular or absent menstrual periods

Males with Cushings syndrome may experience:

-Decreased libido
-Reduced fertility
-Erectile dysfunction


Other signs and symptoms include:

-Muscle weakness
-Depression, stress and irritability
-Loss of emotional control
-Cognitive difficulties
-New or worsened high blood pressure
-Glucose intolerance that may lead to diabetes
-Bone loss, leading to fractures over time


Cushing syndrome effects from excessive rates of the hormone cortisol in your system. Your endocrine system includes glands that produce hormones.

Your adrenal glands generate several hormones, including cortisol. Cortisol plays with various functions in your body. For instance, cortisol keeps your cardiovascular system working generally and helps regulate your blood pressure. In addition, it helps your body react to pressure and controls how you convert (metabolize) carbohydrates, proteins and fats in your daily diet into useable energy. But when the degree of cortisol is not overly low in your own body, you can develop Cushing syndrome.

The purpose of corticosteroids

Cushing syndrome can grow from a cause that originates outside your body (exogenous Cushing syndrome). Taking corticosteroid drugs in high doses over a long period of time may result in Cushing syndrome. These drugs, like prednisone, have the same effects as does the cortisol generated by your body.

Obesity female fat linesThe effects of excessive cortisol can happen as the doses required to treat these illnesses in many cases are higher in relation to the quantity of cortisol your body usually needs each day.

Individuals may also develop Cushing syndrome from injectable corticosteroids continued shots for back pain, bursitis and joint pain. While specific inhaled steroid medications (taken for asthma) and steroid skin lotions (used for skin disorders including eczema) are in exactly the same general class of drugs, they are not as likely to cause Cushing syndrome, but may in some people particularly if taken in high doses.

The illness could also be a result of your body’s own overproduction of cortisol (endogenous Cushing syndrome). In these instances, Cushing syndrome may be related to:

A noncancerous (benign) tumor of the pituitary gland, situated in the bottom of the mind, secretes an excessive quantity of ACTH, which then stimulates the adrenal glands to make more cortisol. This form of the syndrome called Cushing disorder when it grows. It is the most frequently encountered type of endogenous Cushing syndrome and happens a lot more frequently in girls.
An ectopic ACTH-secreting tumour. Infrequently, when a tumour grows in an organ that usually will not create ACTH, the tumour begins to secrete this hormone in surplus. These tumours, which may be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant), are generally seen in the lungs, thymus, thyroid or pancreas gland.
A primary adrenal gland disorder. Cancerous tumours of the adrenal cortex (adrenocortical carcinomas) are uncommon, however they are able to cause Cushing syndrome too.
Genetic Cushing syndrome. Infrequently, individuals inherit an inclination to grow tumours on at least one of their endocrine glands, causing Cushing syndrome and changing cortisol levels.


Other complications may happen, such as in the event you do not get prompt treatment for Cushing syndrome:

-Regular or uncommon diseases (such as hypertension).
-Loss of strength and muscle mass
When Cushing syndrome’s cause is a pituitary tumor (Cushing disease), it can occasionally result in other issues, including interfering with the creation of other hormones.


Cushing syndrome may be hard because other disease processes share the exact same signs and symptoms to diagnose, especially endogenous Cushing syndrome.

The physician may suspect Cushing syndrome if you have signs such as rounding of the face (moon face), a pad of fatty tissue between the shoulders and neck (buffalo hump), and thin skin with bruises and stretch marks.

If the patient has been taking a corticosteroid medication for a long time, the physician may suspect that the patient may have developed Cushing syndrome as a result of this medication.

Treatment and Drugs

Remedies for syndrome are made to reduce cortisol’s higher level within the patient. The very best therapy depends upon the syndrome’s cause. Treatments include:

Decreasing use.

When the reason for Cushing problem is long term utilization of corticosteroid medicines. The physician may recommend noncorticosteroid medicines, that’ll permit him/her or get rid of the utilization of corticosteroids entirely or her to lessen the dose.

Tell the patient that they should not decrease corticosteroid drugs’ dosage or quit getting them by themselves. Suddenly stopping these medicines can lead to deficient levels. Gradually tapering drugs off enables the body to continue normal cortisol output.


Obesity concept in x-rayThe physician might suggest total surgery when the reason for Cushing problem is just a growth. a neurosurgeon, who might execute the process during your nose usually removes tumors. If the growth exists within the glands, lungs the doctor may remove with incisions or in some instances by utilizing minimally invasive medical methods, via a regular procedure.

Following the procedure, the physician will need to consider cortisol alternative medicines to supply the proper quantity of cortisol to the body. Generally, one will ultimately encounter a return of adrenal hormone creation that is regular, as well as the alternative medicines may blend off. Nevertheless, this method may take up to longer or a year. Sometimes, individuals with Cushing problem never encounter a resumption of adrenal purpose that is regular; lifelong therapy is then needed by them.

Light treatment.

He/she will often recommend light treatment to become utilized in combination with all the procedure when the doctor cannot completely eliminate a pituitary growth. Furthermore, light can be utilized for those who are not appropriate applicants for surgery. Light could be provided in little amounts over a six-week interval or with a method called stereotactic radiosurgery (Gamma Knife surgery). to the growth, a sizable dosage of light is sent within the latter process, given like a solitary therapy, and also the light contact with surrounding cells is reduced.

Medicines may be used when surgery do not work to manage cortisol output. Medicines can also be utilized in those who have become really sick before surgery. Physicians suggest medication therapy to enhance symptoms and signs and reduce medical risk. Medicines to manage excessive manufacturing of cortisol contain ketoconazole (Nizoral), mitotane (Lysodren) and metyrapone (Metopirone).

In some instances, its therapy or the growth may cause additional hormones made by the pituitary gland to become poor as well as hormone replacement medicines will be recommended by your physician.

If none of those treatments works well, the physician might suggest surgery of one’s adrenal glands (bilateral adrenalectomy). This process may remedy extra manufacturing of cortisol. Nevertheless, the levels may not stay low, perhaps creating extra pigmentation of one’s skin.

Lifestyle Changes

The length of your recovery from Cushing syndrome will depend on the severity and cause of your condition. Remember the patient didn’t develop Cushing syndrome overnight, and the symptoms won’t disappear overnight either.




Anna C. RN-BC, BSN, PHN, CMSRN Anna began writing extra materials to help her BSN and LVN students with their studies. She takes the topics that the students are learning and expands on them to try to help with their understanding of the nursing process. She is a clinical instructor for LVN and BSN students along with a critical care transport nurse.

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