The stress hormone cortisol carries out some important functions in the human body, including controlling inflammation, regulating blood pressure and managing reactions to stress. However, when the human body is frequently flooded with large doses of cortisol, Cushing’s syndrome could develop. Elevated cortisol levels can occur for various reasons, such as ongoing use of corticosteroid medications for other health conditions or frequently high stress levels. In some cases, tumors on the pituitary gland or adrenal glands are responsible for the development of the condition.
Anyone can develop Cushing’s syndrome, but it's about three times more common in women than in men. The syndrome is not common in children, with only about 10% percent of cases each year occurring in children. If left untreated, the condition can eventually lead to serious health problems, but proper treatment often reduces or eliminates the symptoms. Watch for these symptoms if you think you might have Cushing's syndrome.
Changes to Your Skin and Appearance
The most common symptoms related to Cushing's syndrome affect your weight, skin, hair and overall appearance. You may notice these changes in your physical appearance yourself, or someone else may comment on them before you even notice. Weight gain, especially in the abdomen and midsection, is the number one symptom. You may also notice that your face and cheeks become rounder.
Many people who develop Cushing’s syndrome also develop what is known as a “buffalo hump.” The term certainly isn’t flattering, but it’s a rather accurate description of the visual look of the fatty deposit that develops right below the back of the neck. Your face may look redder and have sudden breakouts of acne, even if you never had a problem with blemishes before. You may also notice new or worsening stretch marks on your abdomen, thighs, breasts and upper arms.