Cushing's Syndrome

Fibromyalgia syndrome is not always easily diagnosed. If you have been searching for an answer to your aches and pains you may also be frustrated with the problems inherent in pinpointing fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia actually mimics more than 45 other disorders, one of which is Cushing's syndrome.

Cushing's syndrome also causes pain and muscle aches similar to fibromyalgia, but it is actually a much different illness. If you think you may have fibromyalgia, be sure to learn about the symptoms of Cushing's syndrome in order to prevent a misdiagnosis.

What is Cushing's Syndrome?
Cushing's syndrome is a disorder caused by prolonged exposure to the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is produced by our adrenal glands, two glands that are located on top of our kidneys. It is responsible for regulating our blood pressure, balancing our insulin production, reducing inflammation, and monitoring our metabolism. It also plays a key role in stimulating our stress response. When the body is exposed to too much cortisol though, it becomes highly sensitive, resulting in tissue and organ damage.

Sometimes referred to as hypercortisolism, Cushing's syndrome affects about 10 to 15 million people every year. It usually affects people between the ages of 20 and 50, though it can affect children. Women are three times more likely to be affected as men.

Cushing's Syndrome and Fibromyalgia
Cushing's syndrome is sometimes confused with fibromyalgia. Some fibromyalgia symptoms are very similar to those produced by Cushing's syndrome. In particular, both syndromes cause:

  • muscle weakness
  • muscle pain
  • depression
  • fatigue

It is important to be properly diagnosed by a number of health care professionals before you begin treatment for fibromyalgia. This should help to reduce the number of misdiagnoses that occur.

Causes of Cushing's Syndrome
Cushing's syndrome results from exposure to high levels of cortisol.

These high levels of cortisol can be caused by a variety of factors:

Glucocorticosteroid Use
Glucocorticosteroids are often prescribed to help manage the symptoms of a number of chronic illnesses, including asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Unfortunately, when taken in large amounts for a prolonged period of time they can cause Cushing's syndrome.

Pituitary Adenoma
Cushing�s syndrome is typically caused by pituitary adenomas, which are tumors that grow on the pituitary gland in the brain. These tumors secrete adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH), which helps to trigger the cortisol-producing process. This type of Cushing's syndrome is sometimes referred to as Cushing's disease.

Ectopic ACTH
Occasionally, tumors outside of the brain can also cause a rise in cortisol levels in your body. Cancerous and non-cancerous tumors, especially lung tumors, can secrete ACTH, triggering high levels of cortisol.

Adrenal Tumors
Though less common, sometimes an abnormal adrenal gland can cause excess cortisol to be produced. Tumors on either side of the adrenal gland can form, triggering cortisol secretion.

Familial Cushing's Syndrome
Some people inherit a predisposition towards developing adrenal tumors. As a result, Cushing's syndrome sometimes runs in families. Familial Cushing's Syndrome is rare.

Symptoms of Cushing's Syndrome
Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome are extensive and can vary from patient to patient.

The most common symptoms are:

  • facial obesity
  • fatigue
  • thin muscles in the arms and legs
  • muscle weakness
  • weakened bones, causing fractures
  • thin skin that bruises easily
  • high blood pressure
  • high blood sugar
  • increased acne
  • facial hair growth in women
  • decreased sex drive in men
  • depression and anxiety

Treatment for Cushing's Syndrome
Treatment for Cushing's syndrome is fairly effective in most cases. Treatment varies depending upon the cause of your excessive cortisol production.

  • reduction in the use of glucocorticosteroids
  • surgery to remove tumors
  • radiation therapy to shrink tumors
  • chemotherapy to shrink tumors



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