Cushing’s Syndrome: Symptoms and Causes | Tampa General

Cushing’s Syndrome 

Cushing’s syndrome (hypercortisolism) occurs when the body’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. 

Cushing’s syndrome, or hypercortisolism, is a rare disorder that’s caused by an excess of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that is best-known for helping the body respond to stress, but it also has effects on metabolism, blood pressure, glucose and sodium management, respiration and more. While anyone can develop this disorder, diagnosis is far more common in women than men. 

Causes of Cushing’s Syndrome 

Cushing’s syndrome can occur when your body naturally produces too much cortisol. This is called endogenous Cushing’s syndrome, and it’s usually brought on by tumors of the pituitary gland or adrenal glands. It can also be caused by tumors that secrete adrenocorticotropic hormones (ACTH) in other parts of the body. 
The condition can also be caused by corticosteroid medications, particularly when taken in high doses. Because the overproduction of cortisol isn’t the result of a natural bodily occurrence, the condition is called exogenous Cushing’s syndrome. 

Symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome 

The most well-known symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome are tied to rapid weight gain in much of the upper body, excluding the arms. These include a rounded face, a “buffalo hump” in the upper back and weight gain in the abdomen and chest areas. Other symptoms that point to Cushing’s syndrome include purple stretch marks on and around the abdomen. These symptoms do not always present in people with Cushing’s syndrome, however. 

Other possible symptoms include: 

  • Easily bruised skin 
  • Slowed healing of wounds 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Fatigue and weakness 
  • Diabetes 
  • Blurry vision 

Men may experience erectile dysfunction and decreased sex drive. Women may experience irregular menstrual periods and excessive body hair growth.  


There are several tests that can be performed to help doctors diagnose Cushing’s syndrome. These include: 

  • Urinary cortisol tests 
  • Salivary cortisol tests 
  • Blood tests 
  • Dexamethasone suppression tests 

Imaging may be ordered if a doctor suspects a tumor to be the cause of Cushing’s syndrome. 


If left untreated, Cushing’s syndrome can cause serious health problems and potentially be fatal. Exogenous Cushing’s syndrome can be treated with medication control, but endogenous Cushing’s syndrome will require treatment of the tumor causing it. At Tampa General Hospital, our endocrinology team uses cutting-edge technology to achieve world-class outcomes for patients with Cushing’s syndrome.