Cushing syndrome

Cushing syndrome
Disorder named for Harvey Williams Cushing, caused by adrenal cortex overactivity.

If caused by a pituitary gland tumour, it is called Cushing disease. Symptoms include obesity of the trunk and face ("moon face"), muscle wasting, high blood pressure, easy bruising, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus, and fat between the shoulders ("buffalo hump"). Excess glucocorticoid hormones, whether produced by the adrenal gland or given as drugs, cause the symptoms, which are treated by surgery, radiation, cortisol-blocking drugs, or ending of glucocorticoid treatment. Cortisol treatment may be necessary after surgery.

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▪ medical disorder
      disorder caused by overactivity of the adrenal cortex. If caused by a tumour of the pituitary gland, it is called Cushing disease.

      The condition is characterized by a combination of manifestations, including obesity of the trunk; muscle wasting and generalized protein breakdown; florid complexion; high blood pressure; skin atrophy resulting in excess bruisability and the appearance of purple or pink streaks (striae) on the abdomen; osteoporosis; diabetes mellitus; facial obesity (“moon” face); and fat in the area between the shoulders (“buffalo hump”). The condition is named for Harvey Cushing (Cushing, Harvey Williams), the American neurosurgeon who in 1932 first described the complex of symptoms in patients with pituitary (pituitary gland) tumours.

      Cushing syndrome is caused by the excessive secretion of cortisol (hydrocortisone) by the adrenal cortex. In general, anything that increases the adrenal gland's secretion of glucocorticoid hormones will cause Cushing syndrome, including adrenal tumours and overproduction of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH, or corticotropin), the major pituitary hormone regulating adrenal function. Excess ACTH may result from pituitary tumours (Cushing disease), as in Cushing's first group of symptomatic patients, or from inappropriate production of the hormone by other tissues that do not ordinarily make ACTH. Treatment with glucocorticoid drugs such as prednisone or dexamethasone may also induce Cushingoid symptoms.

      Although relatively rare, Cushing syndrome is four times as common in women as in men and may appear during or just following pregnancy. It can occur at any age but most typically appears during the third to sixth decades of life.

      Many of the manifestations of Cushing syndrome disappear when the cause of the cortisol excesses is removed. If the cause is from ACTH or glucocorticoid treatment, remission occurs when treatment is discontinued. In the spontaneous types, partial or complete surgical removal of the overactive adrenal cortices or removal of the ACTH-producing tumour of the pituitary is followed by a remission of the symptoms and signs. Daily treatment (therapeutics) with cortisol is essential if the adrenal glands have been completely removed and may also be necessary after partial removal of these glands. Cushing syndrome is also treated at times by irradiation of the pituitary, or by administration of certain chemical agents that block cortisol production.

      Even when Cushing syndrome has been eradicated, however, some of the changes produced by the disorder may continue. This is true, for example, of heart, blood vessel, and kidney changes and osteoporosis.

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Universalium. 2010.

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