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Cushing's Syndrome

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Cushing's Syndrome

UW Health general surgeons in Madison, Wisconsin, treat Cushing's syndrome, often via a minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopic adrenalectomy or retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy.
 
About Cushing's Syndrome
 
Cushing's syndrome is a hormonal disorder that is more common in women and caused by prolonged exposure to the hormone cortisol. The condition is called Cushing's disease when it is caused by a tumor of the pituitary gland, which causes the body to produce excess cortisol.
 
Causes
 
Prolonged or excess exposure to cortisol can also result from: 
  • Long-term use of corticosteroid hormones such as cortisone or prednisone
  • A tumor or abnormality of the adrenal gland, which causes the body to produce excess cortisol
  • Tumors of the lungs, thyroid, pancreas or thymus gland, which can, in rare instances, produce hormones that trigger the syndrome 

 

UW Health endocrine surgery David Schneider, MD, talks about living with Cushing's syndrome.

Symptoms
 
Symptoms may vary, but commonly include: 
  • Weight gain of the upper body and trunk
  • Skin changes including darkening of the skin, easy bruising and purple stretch marks
  • Excess hair growth or acne in women
  • Menstrual disorders, especially infrequent or absent periods
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Personality changes or mood swings
Diagnosis 
 
Tests may include: 
  • Collection of urine over a 24-hour period to test for cortisol levels
  • A dexamethasone suppression test in which a synthetic cortisol is taken overnight or over the course of several days and blood or urine cortisol levels are measured at specific intervals
  • X-rays, scans and other tests to determine whether there is a tumor in the pituitary or adrenal glands or another area of the body
Treatment
 
In many Cushing's cases, tumors that require surgery can be removed with minimally invasive techniques such as laparoscopic adrenalectomy or retroperitoneoscopic adrenalectomy. Treatment can also include the gradual withdrawal of cortisone-type drugs and drug treatment to suppress adrenal gland function.