Cushing's syndrome

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This is the collection of symptoms caused by high cortisol levels.

Cushing's disease is a specific cause of this (a pituitary tumour). Don't get the two mixed up.


Common.jpg Usually, it's the result of long-term steroid use. Less commonly, it's one of the other causes detailed below.


Too much glucocorticoid. This can be: iatrogenic - long-term steroid therapy; or it can be a disease process:

  • pituitary (Cushing's disease) - a tumour in the pituitary gland. Increased ACTH production
  • adrenal - tumour or hyperplasia of the adrenal gland
  • paraneoplastic - tumours elsewhere in the body, like small cell lung cancer which produce ACTH through an unknown aetiology

Risk Factors

The main one is long-term steroid treatment. Make you sure you watch out for these symptoms in patients who have been on steroids for a long time.

Clinical Features

See steroid side effects for an amusing picture. They like asking this one in exams. This is a good mnemonic - CUSHINGOID

  • Cataracts
  • Ulcers
  • Skin: striae, thinning, bruising
  • Hypertension/ Hirsutism/ Hyperglycemia
  • Infections
  • Necrosis, avascular necrosis of the femoral head
  • Glycosuria
  • Osteoporosis, obesity
  • Immunosuppression
  • Diabetes

Others include MOOOOOONFACE & buffalo hump. (MedRevise's personal favourites). Bitemproal hemianopia would suggest Cushing's disease


  • 9am cortisol - cortisol fluctuates throughout the day so it has to be taken at 9am
  • More accurate are:
    • Dexamethasone suppression test
    • 24 hour urinary cortisol


Depends very much on the cause. In iatrogenic - stop the steroids. If it's tumour - cut it out depending on where it is.