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Cushing's Syndrome

This Side Effect Of Steroids Can Occur With Long-Term Use

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Updated May 23, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition: A disorder that occurs when the body is exposed to too much cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by the body and is also found in corticosteroid drugs. Cushing's syndrome can occur either because cortisol is being overproduced by the body or from the use of drugs that contain cortisol. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are often used to treat inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis) and other autoimmune diseases. When Cushing's syndrome is caused by long-term use of corticosteroid medications, it is also called hypercortisolism.

Signs and symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome can include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • elevated glucose levels
  • excessive thirst
  • fatigue
  • fatty hump between the shoulders
  • frequent urination
  • high blood pressure
  • muscle weakness
  • rounded face
  • stretch marks on the abdomen, arms, breasts, buttocks, and thighs (also called striae)
  • weight gain in the upper body

Cushing's syndrome is treated by lowering the levels of cortisol in the body. In the case of an the underlying condition, such as a pituitary gland tumor or adrenal gland disease, more specific treatment will be needed. In the case of drug-induced Cushing's syndrome, the dosage of corticosteroids may need to be tapered down and possibly discontinued.

Also Known As: hypercortisolism

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