Cushing's syndrome (hypercortisolism)is a collection of symptoms caused byvery high levels of a hormone called cortisol in the body.

The symptoms of Cushing's syndrome include:

  • weight gain
  • thinning skin that bruises easily
  • reddish-purple stretch marks on the thighs, stomach, buttocks, arms, legs or breasts
  • fat deposits that develop in the face, causing it to become round
  • muscle or boneweakness
  • decreased interest in sex (loss of libido)

What causes Cushing's syndrome?

Cushing's syndrome oftendevelops as a side effect of treatment with corticosteroids . Corticosteroids are widely used to reduce inflammation and treat autoimmune conditions (where the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissue).

People taking high doses of corticosteroids long-term often havea build-up of cortisol in their blood. This type of Cushing's syndrome is sometimes called iatrogenic Cushing's syndrome.

A less common cause of Cushing's syndrome is where a tumour (growth) develops inside one of the body's glands, causing it to produce an excessive amount of hormones. This is known as endogenous Cushing's syndrome.

However, this must be done gradually to avoid any unpleasant side effects.

For endogenous Cushing's syndrome, surgery to remove the tumour is usually recommended. If surgery is unsuccessful or it's not possible to remove the tumour safely, medication can be used to counter the effects of the high cortisol levels.

Although treatment is effective, it can take some time to bring the symptoms under controlany time from a few weeks to a few years in some cases.

Left untreated, Cushing's syndrome can cause high blood pressure , which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke .

Anyone can get it, although it tends to affect adults aged from 20 to 50 years. Women are three times more likely to develop the syndrome than men.

Information about you

If you have Cushing's syndrome, your clinical team will pass information about you on to the National Congenital Anomaly and Rare Diseases Registration Service (NCARDRS).

This helps scientists look for better ways to prevent and treat this condition. You can opt out of the register at any time.

Find out more about the register .

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 28 Nov 2016