The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

What is Cushing's Syndrome

Cushing's syndrome is a medical condition in which the adrenal glands produce excess amounts of glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids are hormones which the body normally releases in response to stress, such as danger or threat.

They serve useful functions of helping the body and brain to mobilize and react to stress, such as initiating the body's "fight-or-flight response" to danger. However, overproduction of glucocorticoids can cause negative effects such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and suppression of the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to disease and injury.

What causes Cushing's Syndrome

Cushing's syndrome can also cause symptoms including obesity, fatigue and weakness, impotence, osteoporosis, and skin discoloration.

Cushing's syndrome may be caused by a tumor of the adrenal gland, or by excess stimulation of the adrenal gland (for example by disfunction of the pituitary gland, which normally signals the adrenal glands to begin production of glucocorticoids).

Cushing's syndrome can also develop in patients given long-term administration of corticosteroids (such as some asthma medications). Treatment of the underlying cause can often reverse the symptoms of Cushing's syndrome.

by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain