What is Cushing syndrome?
Cushing 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.
- 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.
- Cushing Exhibit Online - Yale School of Medicine. Retrieved on April 8, 2012, from http://doc.med.yale.edu/historical/cushing/career.html.