A woman holding her shoulder and neck.
Cushing's syndrome can cause muscle pain and weakness, often affecting the shoulders, hips and thighs.

An Exhaustive List of Cushing's Syndrome Symptoms

Cushing’s syndrome is a disorder that happens when your body is exposed to too much cortisol for a prolonged period of time. This can happen if your body produces too much cortisol or when taking corticosteroids to treat another medical condition. Cortisol is a hormone that affects all of the tissues and organs in the body; it helps your body respond to stress, but it also helps to maintain blood pressure, regulate glucose in the blood, reduce inflammation and turn the food you consume into usable energy. In this article, we will take a look at an exhaustive list of Cushing’s syndrome symptoms so you can spot the signs.

11 Signs of Cushing’s Syndrome

Signs and symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome vary among individuals, depending on cortisol levels in the body.

1. Weight Gain

A common symptom of Cushing’s syndrome is weight gain, which is most prominent in the face, between the shoulders at the base of the neck, chest and abdomen, but arms and legs will remain thin.

Children who have Cushing’s syndrome develop obesity without excessive food consumption, and they tend to grow more slowly than their peers consuming the same diet.

2. Skin Changes

Excess cortisol thins the skin and weakens the blood vessels in the body, causing them to easily break, resulting in frequent and easy bruising.

Additionally, purplish-pink stretch marks (striae) are common and tend to develop on the breasts, arms, stomach, buttocks and thighs. On the face, acne, dark spots and patchy skin may appear, and small cuts, bites, scarring and bruising often take a long time to heal.

3. Muscle Aches and Weakness

The majority of people with Cushing’s syndrome suffer from weak and aching muscles that waste away over time. The weakness is most prominent in the shoulders, hips and thighs. While muscle weakness tends to progress, if the condition goes untreated, it can become debilitating, making everyday activities difficult.

4. Diminishing Bone Health

High cortisol levels in the body make people with Cushing’s syndrome more prone to bone weakness and osteoporosis. Warning signs of diminishing bone health include frequent back pain, pain in the bones and joints and bone fractures following minor trauma.

5. Excessive Hair Growth

If you have Cushing’s syndrome you may develop excessive hair growth (hirsutism) due to the high cortisol levels that trigger fast-growing, thick hair, typically on the face, back, chest, abdomen, thighs and neck, as well as excessive and dark facial hair.

6. Decreased Libido and Fertility

Individuals with Cushing’s syndrome often suffer from decreased libido, and men often report erectile dysfunction. Additionally, Cushing’s syndrome decreases the reproductive capacity in both men and women, and may lead to infertility if left untreated.

7. High Blood Pressure

Research suggests that up to 95% of adults and 47% of adolescents and children with Cushing’s syndrome have high blood pressure. This is cause for concern because extremely high blood pressure can cause a heart attack, as well as other cardiovascular issues.

8. Fatigue

Cortisol is often referred to as the stress hormone, so when there is an excess amount in the body, individuals start to experience the effects of chronic stress, including a lack of energy. Individuals with Cushing’s syndrome often feel exhausted, despite adequate rest.

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9. Menstrual Changes

Women with Cushing’s syndrome often suffer from irregular menstrual cycles, and some may have no period for several months at a time.

10. Mental Health Changes

When individuals are exposed to excess cortisol in the body, they often experience irritability, depression, or anxiety. Severe mental health disturbances can result if the condition goes untreated. Additionally, loss of emotional control, resulting in outbursts, may be experienced.

11. Cognitive Decline

Constant production and exposure to cortisol in the body, keeps the brain busy and makes it difficult to stay focused and maintain social interactions. Individuals with Cushing’s syndrome often suffer from memory loss and have difficulty concentrating, making it hard to perform work and school tasks.

Complications of Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome can cause complications and other health problems, including:

  • Heart attack or stroke.
  • Infections.
  • Blood clots (in the legs and lungs).
  • High cholesterol.
  • Insulin resistance, prediabetes, or type 2 diabetes.

It’s important to note that while Cushing’s syndrome can be cured, in most cases it can be fatal if left untreated.

In Conclusion

If you notice symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome, especially if you take corticosteroids to treat a health condition such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, or arthritis, it is important that you speak to your doctor, as early treatment is essential for optimal outcomes.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the disorder and may include cortisol-reducing medications, chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.

In cases where you use corticosteroids to treat another condition, your dosage will be reduced to the lowest effective dose, or you may be switched to a non-corticosteroid medication.