Are You Seeing "Cushing Syndrome" Everywhere Right Now? Here's What It Is & What to Know

Discover what the condition is and how it could impact your health.

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Reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball, M.S., RD

If you’ve been active on social media or reading the news recently, you may have come across the term Cushing’s syndrome. Or maybe you’ve seen celebrities like Amy Schumer sharing their experiences with the condition. But what is it exactly, and should you be concerned?

In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of Cushing’s syndrome, including how common it is, symptoms to look for and lifestyle factors that can help in prevention and management. Whether you’ve received a diagnosis or just want to learn more, read on for a better understanding of Cushing’s syndrome and how to manage it.

What is Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome (also called hypercortisolism) is a rare condition that occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol over an extended period. Cortisol, often called the “stress hormone,” is produced by your adrenal glands and is essential in regulating various bodily functions, including metabolism, immune function, immune response, blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Potential Causes & Risk Factors

Cushing’s syndrome is a rare condition, affecting roughly 40 to 70 people per million. It typically occurs in adults aged 30 to 50, with women being affected about three times more often than men. Various factors can cause the syndrome, such as long-term use of corticosteroid medications (such as prednisone or hydrocortisone used for skin rash, asthma and other diseases), tumors in the pituitary or adrenal glands or tumors in other parts of the body that produce cortisol-like substances.

Those with type 2 diabetes and high blood sugar levels, along with high blood pressure, may have a higher risk of developing Cushing’s syndrome due to an excess of glucocorticoids in the body. These are steroids that occur naturally in the body and have anti-inflammatory effects, but can be damaging in high quantities. Additionally, taking glucocorticoid medications can have a similar effect, which can increase the risk of developing the syndrome. Over 10 million Americans take these meds each year, but it’s unclear how many develop the condition as a result.

This syndrome relates primarily to kidney function, the presence of tumors and longterm medication use, but it is quite rare, only affecting 40 to 70 people per million people. It is not typically developed from prolonged periods of feeling stressed (which can often be confused when talking about cortisol).

Cushing's Syndrome Symptoms

While Cushing’s syndrome isn’t very common, it’s crucial to be aware of its potential symptoms for early detection and treatment. Common symptoms can include:

  • Weight gain in the upper body

  • Weight loss in the arms and legs

  • Round face

  • Fat lump between shoulders

  • Weak muscles or bones (including osteoporosis and fractures)

  • Skin changes (including acne, infections and stretch marks)

Other symptoms include excess body hair and menstrual issues in women and men experiencing low sex drive or infertility. Less common symptoms are fatigue, headaches, increased thirst and urination, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar.

If you’ve noticed these symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis. However, note that these symptoms can result from other conditions, so don’t jump to conclusions. While some celebrities have helped raise awareness of Cushing’s syndrome, it remains a rare condition.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

If you’ve received a recent diagnosis or want to lower your risk of developing the syndrome, some lifestyle changes and habits can help keep your cortisol levels in check. These include eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, exercising regularly and managing stress through relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Cushing's syndrome go away?

Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome can be managed with treatment. That said, it can take a long time to fully recover from the disease and may depend on what is causing the syndrome for an individual.

What is the life expectancy of Cushing's syndrome?

While Cushing's syndrome can be fatal if not treated, it can usually be well-managed with appropriate care. In this case, the life expectancy for someone with Cushing's syndrome would be comparable to the general public.

The Bottom Line

Cushing’s syndrome is a rare condition caused by prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels. It can impact your health in various ways, including weight gain, low energy and hormone issues. If you suspect you have Cushing’s syndrome, consult your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and care. However, if you have these symptoms, there’s no need to panic since Cushing’s syndrome is quite rare. As always, prioritize a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, regular physical activity and stress management to support overall well-being and lead a healthy, fulfilling life.

Up Next: Hormone-Balancing Foods: How Your Diet Can Help Keep Your Hormones Functioning Well

Read the original article on Eating Well.