Cushings Disease

Overproduction of a stress hormone (cortisol) in the body causes an array of symptoms known as Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism). Cushing’s disease occurs in one of three forms. The most common form of Cushing’s disease is caused by a microscopic tumor at the base of the brain, within the pituitary gland. This benign tumor over-stimulates the adrenal glands to produce excessive levels of cortisol. A second form of Cushing’s disease is caused by a tumor within the adrenal glands (small glands next to the kidneys) that overproduces cortisol. Adrenal gland tumors can be benign or malignant (cancerous). The third form of Cushing’s disease is caused by chronic use of steroid medications (e.g.: prednisone, dexamethasone). All forms of Cushing’s disease exhibit similar symptoms: excessive thirst, urination, appetite, and panting; recurring infections; and elevated blood pressure. Diagnosis of Cushing’s Disease requires specialized blood tests and occasionally imaging (e.g.: abdominal ultrasound, CT scan). Treatment depends on where the disease originates: 1) pituitary tumors are managed with oral medications; 2) adrenal gland tumors: surgical removal of the tumor may be recommended; and 3) excess cortisol caused by medications requires gradual withdrawal of the drug. Untreated Cushing’s disease can result in complications such as: hypertension, persistent infections, and poor wound healing.