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Adrenal Gland Disorders: Cushing's Syndrome

Cushing's Syndrome


Cushing's syndrome is the result of the excessive production of corticosteroids by the adrenal glands. An overproduction of corticotrophin (the hormone that controls the adrenal gland) by the pituitary gland , which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids, may be one cause. In addition, certain lung cancers and other tumours outside the pituitary gland may produce corticotrophins. Other causes include benign or cancerous tumours on the adrenal glands.

Symptoms and Signs

The most common symptoms may include:

  • Upper body obesity
  • Round face
  • Increased fat around neck
  • Thinning arms and legs
  • Fragile and thin skin
  • Stretch marks on abdomen, thighs, buttocks, arms, and breasts
  • Bone and muscle weakness
  • Severe fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Excess hair growth in women
  • Irregular or stopped menstrual cycles in women
  • Reduced sex drive and fertility in men

However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In addition to a complete medical history and medical examination, diagnostic procedures for Cushing's syndrome may include x-rays to locate any tumours; 24-hour urinary test to measure for corticosteroid hormones; CAT scan to detect any abnormalities that may not show up on an ordinary x-ray; MRI; dexamethasone suppression test - to differentiate whether the excess production of corticotrophins are from the pituitary gland or tumours elsewhere; corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) stimulation test - to differentiate whether the cause is a pituitary tumour or an adrenal tumour.
Treatment for Cushing's syndrome depends on its cause. Surgery may be needed to remove tumours or the adrenal glands. Other treatment may include radiation, chemotherapy, and use of certain hormone-inhibiting drugs.

Adrenal Tumours


Tumours of the adrenal glands are rare. However, when present, they can cause a multitude of disorders by excessively secreting certain adrenal-produced hormones. One type of tumour of the adrenal glands is called a pheochromocytoma . A pheochromocytoma is a benign adrenal gland tumour that secretes adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) hormones. These hormones are responsible for regulating heart rate and blood pressure, among other functions. Pheochromocytomas occur most frequently in young to middle-aged adults between the ages of 30 and 60.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. University of Maryland Medical System Online Health Guides:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Cushing's Syndrome
Adrenal tumours


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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002