What is Cushing’s syndrome?
Cushing’s syndrome is a collection of signs and symptoms that indicate that an excessive amount of the adrenal gland hormone ‘cortisol’ is present in the body. This can be the result of using medication that contains cortisol (by way of skin ointments, inhalers or injections) or because the body itself produces too much cortisol. A distinction should be made between the following types:
- Exogenous or iatrogenic Cushing: caused by medication that contains cortisol or substances similar to cortisol.
- Endogenous Cushing: the excess cortisol is caused by the body itself producing too much cortisol. Endogenous Cushing can further be divided into three separate forms: Cushing’s disease, ectopic Cushing and adrenal gland Cushing.
- Cushing’s disease: a tumour in the pituitary gland (pituitary adenoma) causes excess levels of ACTH hormone to be produced
- Ectopic Cushing: the body produces too much ACTH or CRH, as a result – for example – of a tumour in the lungs or the pancreas
- Adrenal gland Cushing: the excess cortisol production is caused by a tumour in the adrenal gland.
- Cyclical Cushing is a special form of Cushing, whereby periods of increased production of cortisol alternate with periods without increased production.
Tests and diagnosis