Cushing syndrome


Cushing syndrome is a disorder that occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol. It may also occur if you take too much cortisol or other steroid hormones.

See also: Cushing's disease (pituitary Cushing's)

Alternative Names



Cushing syndrome may be caused by taking too much corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone and prednisolone. These drugs are used to treat conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

Other people develop Cushing syndrome because their bodies produce too much cortisol, a hormone normally made in the adrenal gland. Causes of too much cortisol are:


Most people with Cushing syndrome will have:

Skin changes that are often seen:

Muscle and bone changes include:

Women with Cushing syndrome often have:

Men may have:

Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:

Exams and Tests

Blood sugar and white blood cell counts may be high. Potassium level may be low.

Laboratory tests that may be done to diagnose Cushing syndrome and identify the cause are:

Tests to determine the cause or complications may include:

High cholesterol, including high triglycerides and low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) may also be present.


Treatment depends on the cause.

Cushing syndrome caused by corticosteroid use:

Cushing syndrome caused by a pituitary or a tumor that releases ACTH (Cushing's disease):

Cushing syndrome due to an adrenal tumor or other tumors:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Removing the tumor may lead to full recovery, but there is a chance that the condition will return.

Survival for people with ectopic tumors depends on the tumor type. Untreated, Cushing syndrome can be life-threatening.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of Cushing syndrome.


Stewart PM, Krone NP. The adrenal cortex. In: Kronenberg HM, Shlomo M, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 15.

Review Date: 12/11/2011
Reviewed By: Nancy J. Rennart, MD, Chief of Endocrinology & Diabetes, Norwalk Hospital, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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