Stressed? Your body releases cortisol as a response to it. What this does is prepare your body for a reaction to the stress you experience. But what happens if your glands release too much cortisol?
Cortisol is like a natural alarm system. It makes us react to a threatening stimulus by controlling our mood, motivation and fear. But when we use certain corticosteroids in excess or our adrenal glands malfunction, they may release too much cortisol, which has an adverse impact. Apart from feeling irritable and on-edge, the release of too much cortisol can point to Cushing syndrome.
The Cushing Syndrome is what happens when you have an abnormally high level of cortisol in our blood. The causes of this can be prolonged stress, intense athletic training, malnutrition or alcoholism. Sometimes, it can also be caused by a tumour on the pituitary gland, which is the gland controlling all the other glands’ hormone release. In very few cases, Cushing's may be familial, but this is rare.
Signs and Symptoms
Noticing symptoms are the key to seeking diagnosis and treatment. Doctors run tests for Cushing’s based on both, your visible and reported symptoms. Some of the symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome are:
- Weight gain and obesity - especially around the midsection
- Thinning skin that bruises easily, stretch marks that are purple in colour
- Slow healing skin injuries
- Fatigue and weakness
- Increased thirst and urination
- Bone loss
- High blood pressure
- Anxiety, irritability and depression
Women may experience growth of unwanted body hair and irregular menstruation while men may experience a lack of sexual interest and infertility.
Based on your symptoms, the doctor may use tests to determine whether or not you suffer from Cushing syndrome.
- Cortisol Urine Test
- Saliva cortisol measurements
- Low-Dose Dexamethasone (Suppression) Test (measuring your cortisol level after a dose of dexamethasone)
Sometimes, imaging studies like MRIs and CT scans may also be recommended.
The urine test is a more comprehensive test because it can help report cortisol levels over a 24 hour period rather than the cortisol level at the moment.
Treatment will depend upon the cause. Cushing syndrome is sometimes caused due to the use of corticosteroid medication as well, so factors like this have to be considered before treating the disease. Any treatment will be done under medical supervision.
- Doctors may prescribe medicines to decrease cortisol production in the adrenal gland or reduce ACTH production by the pituitary
- If the cause is a tumour, surgical removal followed by chemotherapy (if cancerous) will be prescribed.
- If the cause of Cushing's is use of corticosteroids, your doctor will alter dosage. You cannot change your dosage without medical advice.
Early detection of Cushing Syndrome can make it more manageable as the treatment will start at an earlier stage. Don’t suffer through Cushing’s in silence. Make sure to speak to your doctor about how you can cope with the illness. Cushing’s is a chronic illness and can impair your lifestyle and independence. However, support groups as well as learning some coping techniques - which could range from meditation to seeking professional help to manage the emotions you go through, can improve the quality of life with Cushing syndrome.
Do you know someone who might be living with Cushing and unaware of it? Let them know!