Froedtert and MCW researchers investigate Cushing syndrome incidence in bariatric surgery patients

Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin determined that Cushing syndrome, an endocrine disorder, may be the potential cause for weight gain and metabolic complications for patients who have undergone bariatric surgery for obesity. The study, published in the journal Obesity Surgery, was conducted by Ty B. Carroll, MD, assistant professor of endocrinology; James W. Findling, MD, FACP, professor of endocrinology ; and Bradley R. Javorsky, MD, assistant professor of endocrinology. The physicians practice at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa and Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls.

Cushing syndrome can occur when the human body is exposed to high levels of cortisol for an extended period of time. Cortisol is a hormone in the body which affects blood pressure regulation and cardiovascular system functions. Cortisol also helps regulate the body’s conversion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats from diet into usable energy. However, when the level of cortisol becomes too high, Cushing syndrome can develop.

Cushing syndrome is associated with a variety of symptoms including weight gain and fatty tissue deposits in the body. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, 10 to 15 million people are affected each year by Cushing syndrome.

Bariatric surgery is a procedure performed to help with extreme cases of obesity. Weight loss is achieved by reducing the size of the stomach with a gastric band, removal of a portion of the stomach or resecting and rerouting the small intestine to a small stomach pouch. Bariatric surgery is often used as an option for individuals unable to lose weight through diet and exercise, or have serious health problems caused by obesity.

According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, 179,000 bariatric surgeries were performed in the U.S. in 2013. However, despite successes in normal weight loss cases, bariatric surgery does not provide long term weight loss for individuals diagnosed with Cushing syndrome. Cushing syndrome often goes undiagnosed as a potential cause for weight gain and metabolic complications until after the surgery is performed.

MCW researchers in this study analyzed the incidence of Cushing syndrome in patients who underwent bariatric surgery for weight loss. During the investigation, the researchers performed a retrospective chart review on a series of 16 patients diagnosed with Cushing syndrome from five tertiary care centers in the U.S. who underwent bariatric surgery. The results from the study found 12 of the analyzed patients were not diagnosed with Cushing syndrome prior to their bariatric surgery. The remaining four patients had Cushing syndrome surgery prior to bariatric surgery, without recognition that their Cushing syndrome was persistent until after the weight loss surgery. The findings from the research indicate that Cushing syndrome may be often overlooked in patients undergoing bariatric surgery.

According to the researchers, testing for Cushing syndrome should be performed prior to bariatric surgery in patients with persistent hypertension, diabetes mellitus or excessive weight regain.


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