What is Cushing’s Syndrome?

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Start taking your cortisol levels seriously – Here is Why

What is Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s Syndrome manifests when your body makes too much cortisol hormone over a long period of time. Cortisol is our “stress hormone” which means it helps the body respond to stress. In this article, we explore what Cushing’s Syndrome is, what causes it, and how to manage it. 

Symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome: 

  • Weight gain, especially in your belly area (this is called central obesity)
  • Red cheeks, also known as “moon facies
  • Buffalo hump on the upper back 
  • Muscle mass loss, especially in arms and legs 
  • Purple or red stretch marks (compared to pregnancy, where stretch marks are white/pale) 
  • Elevated blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • Increased sweating 
  • High Blood sugar (Hyperglycemia)
  • Unstable blood sugar and insulin resistance (can lead to diabetes) 
  • More frequent infections  

What causes Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s Syndrome is most commonly caused by long-term use of glucocorticoids (for example, prednisone). Glucocorticoids are a type of medication that is used to treat medical conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. They are also used to suppress the immune system after an organ transplant. Some people develop elevated cortisol without glucocorticoids, commonly from a tumor that causes the body to produce too much cortisol, but this is referred to as Cushing’s Disease. 

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is our main “stress hormone,” but it does many other things too! Such as maintaining blood pressure, regulating blood sugar, reducing inflammation, and turning the food you eat into energy. It also keeps us alert, allowing us to respond to stress and changes in our environment.  However, too much cortisol is linked to negative outcomes such as increased inflammation, reproduction and menstrual problems, weight gain, sleep disorders, and more


What to do about Cushing’s Syndrome

Individuals with Cushing’s Syndrome are at an increased risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fertility problems. This is why it’s recommended to eat a healthy anti-inflammatory whole foods diet, exercise, and reduce stress as much as possible. 

A few stress-reducing practices to help lower cortisol levels include relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing, massage or meditation. Also getting good quality sleep, fostering healthy friendships, talking with friends and family, and seeking professional counseling, which can help you develop specific coping strategies to manage stress. 

Lastly, if you are taking glucocorticoids and you’re concerned about Cushing’s Syndrome, talk to your doctor about discontinuing or alternative medications. 


By: Janelle van Leeuwen BSc.

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