Cushing Syndrome: Condition Information

What is Cushing syndrome?

Illustration of adrenal glands on top of the kidneysCushing syndrome is a condition that occurs when the body’s tissues are constantly exposed to too much of the hormone cortisol.1 The syndrome is named after a brain surgeon, Harvey Cushing, who identified the condition in 1932.2 Cortisol is produced by the body’s two adrenal (pronounced uh-DREEN-l) glands either in response to stress or when the cortisol levels in the blood are lower than they should be. Cortisol is a type of glucocorticoid (pronounced GLOO-koh-KAWR-tuh-koid) or steroid (pronounced STEER-oid or STER-oid) hormone.

In the right amount, cortisol helps the body with several vital tasks:

  • Maintaining blood pressure and heart function
  • Controlling the immune system
  • Converting fat, protein, and carbohydrates into energy
  • Raising blood sugar levels as needed
  • Controlling bone formation

When the body continually receives or produces too much cortisol, either from medication or as a result of a tumor, Cushing syndrome can develop. Many factors influence whether this happens, such as the medication dosage and how long it is taken. Or, in the case of a tumor, how large it grows before it is detected and treated.

  1. Stewart, P. M., and Krone, H. P. The adrenal cortex. In: Kronenberg H.M., Shlomo, M., Polonsky, K.S, Larsen, P.R., eds. Williams. Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chapter 15.
  2. Cushing Exhibit Online - Yale School of Medicine. Retrieved on April 8, 2012, from External Web Site Policy

What causes it? »


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