What are the symptoms of Cushing syndrome?

Cushing syndrome can cause a range of symptoms.1,2 The symptoms might also be similar to those of other conditions.3

Physically, someone with Cushing syndrome might have:

  • Overweight or obesity above the waist but thin arms and legs
  • A round, red face, sometimes referred to as a moon face
  • A fat lump between the shoulders, sometimes called a buffalo hump
  • Weak muscles or bones including osteoporosis, bone pain, and fractures
  • Skin changes, including:
    • New or worsened acne or skin infections
    • Reddish-purple stretch marks called striae (pronounced STRY-ee). These are usually about half an 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 include the following:

  • Children may get heavier but grow more slowly than their peers.
  • Women may have more hair on their face, neck, chest, abdomen, and thighs. They may experience menstrual problems, such as irregular or stopped periods.
  • Men may have lower sex drive, experience impotence, and become less fertile.

The following less common symptoms also may develop:

  • Mental changes such as depression, anxiety, moodiness, or behaving differently
  • Severe fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Thirst and increased need to urinate
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides

Overall, the symptoms that most strongly hint at Cushing syndrome are the fatty deposit on the upper back/neck, fat 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 in height and more weight gain that may be mistaken for obesity.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. Pediatrics120(3), e575-e586. Retrieved March 14, 2017, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=17698579 
  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., Stewart, P. M., & Montori, V. M. (2008). The diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome: An Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/93/5/1526/2598096 
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