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Cushing Disease

What is Cushing disease?

Cushing disease (sometimes referred to as Cushing’s disease and often confused with its umbrella term, Cushing syndrome) starts with a benign pituitary tumor or excess pituitary growth. Through a series of triggers, these pituitary gland disorders lead to the overproduction of adrenocorticotropic hormone (or ACTH), which causes the body to produce abnormally high amounts of the glucocorticoid hormone cortisol.

The end result is Cushing disease. Cushing’s symptoms do vary widely, but weight gain (often seen around the face and trunk) can be a common early indicator. In addition to these markers, Cushing disease causes:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Mood changes
  • Elevated blood pressure

How common is Cushing disease?

About 10 to 15 per one million people are affected globally, with Cushing disease commonly occurring in females and individuals aged between 20-to-50 years old. With that said, the condition can also affect children.

What causes Cushing disease?

Cortisol is popularly known as the “stress hormone”—when the body produces normal amounts, cortisol successfully regulates cell metabolism. This primarily comes to play when (you guessed it) the body is under stress. In these situations, the adrenal gland will manufacture cortisol, which increases blood pressure, controls inflammation, and triggers the creation and breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. This functionality can save the body from stress, but in Cushing disease, cortisol levels are raised. Instead of helping the body, the high amounts of cortisol lead to Cushing’s symptoms.

What are the symptoms of Cushing disease?

Individuals may experience an abundance of Cushing symptoms throughout the body:

  • Extremities, face, and trunk: Besides weight gain, Cushing disease sometimes causes stretch marks and an increased risk of bruising
  • Skeletomuscular structure: People with Cushing disease may develop extremely fragile bones (osteoporosis), fatigue, and muscle weakness
  • Immune system: The characteristic weakening in the immune system leads to a greater chance of infection
  • Neurological function: Cushing disease can be seen in the form of anxiety, depression, worsening temperament, concentration problems, and memory issues
  • Reproductive differences: While male Cushing disease sufferers may face erectile dysfunction, females can develop irregularities in their menstrual cycles and additional hair growth

How do people inherit Cushing disease?

It’s unknown what role genetics play in Cushing disease. Most often, the disease occurs randomly, regardless of family history.

Where can I find more information about Cushing disease?

Cushing Disease Articles