Cushing's Syndrome

Last Updated: January 30, 2020

Definition - What does Cushing's Syndrome mean?

Cushing’s syndrome is a disorder that occurs when the body is exposed to abnormally high levels of the hormone cortisol over an extended amount of time.

Taking an excess of corticosteroid medication may cause Cushing’s syndrome, but certain disorders or conditions, including tumors, may cause the body to produce too much cortisol on its own.

Excessive levels of cortisol will disrupt many of the body’s natural processes, including the reproductive system. As a result, most people with Cushing’s syndrome are infertile.

FertilitySmarts explains Cushing's Syndrome

High levels of cortisol prevent the ovaries from releasing hormones, maturing eggs, and regulating the menstrual cycle. As a result, women with Cushing’s syndrome will experience abnormal or absent ovarian function, causing infertility.

Some women regain standard ovarian function after being treated for Cushing’s syndrome. However, some women do not. Failure to redevelop ovarian function is most common among women who received treatment for pituitary tumors. These women may be able to become pregnant through the use of hormone therapies or assisted reproductive technologies (ART).

In rare cases of women with Cushing's syndrome becoming pregnant, the risk of miscarriage is very high.

Men with Cushing’s syndrome typically experience limited fertility as a result of a reduced sperm count and quality. Cortisol impacts the testes, the development site for sperm, often resulting in abnormal sperm, produced inadequately smaller quantities.

Additionally, many men with Cushing’s syndrome struggle with low sex drive and impotence. Once Cushing’s syndrome has been treated, many men regain healthy sperm development and sexual functioning.

The most common cause of Cushing’s syndrome is taking corticosteroid medications. However, aside from medication, the presence of too much cortisol can naturally be caused by:

  • Dysfunction of the pituitary gland
  • Adrenal gland disease
  • Tumor of the pituitary gland
  • Abnormally high or extended periods of stress
  • Malnutrition
  • Depression
  • Alcoholism

Common symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include:

  • Weight gain
  • Acne
  • Fatigue
  • Increased urination
  • Bone loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fat in the face, stomach, neck, and upper back.

Treatment of Cushing's syndrome is based on the specific cause and resulting symptoms but may include cancer treatment, lifestyle changes, or medication adjustment.

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