What are the symptoms of Cushing syndrome?

Most people with Cushing syndrome have a range of symptoms,1 and one person may not have the same symptoms as another individual.2 The symptoms also might resemble those of other conditions.3,4

Physically, someone with Cushing syndrome might:

  • Be heavy or obese above the waist but have thin arms and legs
  • Have a round, red face, sometimes referred to as a moon face
  • Develop a fat lump between the shoulders, sometimes called a buffalo hump
  • Have weak muscles or bones, including osteoporosis, bone pain, and fractures
  • Show skin changes, including:
    • Acne or skin infections
    • Reddish-purple stretch marks called striae (pronounced STRAHY-uh), which are usually at least ½-inch wide and can appear on the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, arms, and breasts
    • Thin, fragile skin that bruises easily and heals poorly

Additional symptoms can occur in specific groups of people. For example:

  • Children grow heavier and grow more slowly than their peers.
  • Women may have more hair on their face, neck, chest, abdomen, and thighs. Their menstrual periods may become irregular or stop.
  • Men may have lower sex drives, experience impotence, and become less fertile.

The following less common symptoms may also develop:

  • Mental changes, such as being depressed, anxious, or moody, or behaving differently
  • Severe fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Thirstiness and increased need to urinate
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides (pronounced trahy-GLIS-uh-rahydz)

Overall, the symptoms that most strongly hint at Cushing syndrome are fatness around the abdomen, weakness in muscles closest to the torso (such as in the shoulders and hips), wide striae (skin stripes), bruising without being bumped, unexplained osteoporosis, and—in children—slower growth and more weight gain.2,3

  1. Batista, D. L., Riar, J., Keil, M., & Stratakis, C. A. (2007). Diagnostic tests for children who are referred for the investigation of Cushing syndrome. Pediatrics, 120(3), e575-e586.
  2. Nieman, L. K., & Ilias, I. (2005) Evaluation and treatment of Cushing’s syndrome. Journal of American Medicine, 118(12), 1340–1346. PMID 16378774.
  3. Nieman, L. K., Biller, B. M. K., Findling, J. W., Newell-Price, J., Savage, M. O., et al. (2008). The diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome: An Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. Retrieved April 8, 2012, from http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/jc.2008-0125 External Web Site Policy.
  4. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus. Cushing’s syndrome. Retrieved April 8, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/cushingssyndrome.html.