Mild Cortisol Increases Affect Cardiovascular Changes Linked to Heart Disease in Cushing’s

Increases in cortisol secretion, even if mild, induce early heart and blood vessel changes that may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, according to Italian researchers.

The findings continue to support the role of the hormone cortisol in heart disease, and demonstrate the need for carefully monitoring cardiovascular risk in patients with high levels of the hormone, including those with Cushing’s disease.

The study, “Cardiovascular features of possible autonomous cortisol secretion in patients with adrenal incidentalomas,” was published in the European Journal of Endocrinology.

While most patients with adrenal incidentalomas don’t have symptoms, nearly half have excess cortisol production. Adrenal incidentalomas are masses in the adrenal glands discovered only when a patient undergoes imaging tests for another unrelated condition.

These asymptomatic, mild cortisol-producing cases are defined as possible autonomous cortisol secretion (pACS), according to the European Society of Endocrinology Guidelines.

Excess production of the hormone, seen in Cushing’s disease patients, is associated with increased mortality, mainly due to heart diseases. Patients with asymptomatic adrenal adenomas and mild cortisol secretion also have more cardiovascular events and generally die sooner than those with normal cortisol levels.

But little is known about the causes behind cardiac and vessel damage in these patients.

To shed light on this matter, a research team at Sapienza University of Rome evaluated the cardiovascular status of patients with pACS. This allowed them to study the impact of cortisol in the heart and blood vessels without the interference of other hormone and metabolic imbalances seen in Cushing’s disease.

The ERGO trial (NCT02611258) included 71 patients. All had been diagnosed with adrenal incidentalomas, 34 of which were pACS with mildly increased levels of the hormone and 37 were defined as nonfunctioning adenoma (NFA) — adrenal masses with normal hormone levels.

The two groups were very similar, with no significant differences in metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors. Adrenal lesions in the pACS group, however, were significantly bigger, which was linked to cortisol levels.

Looking at the heart morphology, researchers found that pACS patients had a significantly higher left ventricular mass index (LVMI), which is a well-established predictive measure of adverse cardiovascular events.

Further analysis revealed that LVMI scores were associated with levels of the hormone, suggesting it has an “independent effect of cortisol on cardiac function,” the researchers wrote.

Slightly more than half of pACS patients (53%) also had a thicker left ventricle, a feature that was seen only in 13.5% of NFA patients. The performance of the left ventricle during diastole (muscle relaxation) was also affected in 82.3% of pACS patients, compared to 35.1% in those with NFA.

Patients with pACS also had less flexible arteries, which may contribute to the development of vascular diseases.

The results show that “mild autonomous cortisol secretion can sustain early cardiac and vascular remodeling” in patients who appear apparently healthy, the researchers said.

“The morphological and functional cardiovascular changes observed in pACS underline the need for further studies to correctly define the long-term management of this relatively common condition,” they added.


Steroid Medication for Nasal Obstruction in Infants May Cause Cushing’s Syndrome

Intranasal steroid drops used to treat nasal obstruction may cause Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal insufficiency in infants, a case study of two patients suggests.

The study, “Iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal insufficiency in infants on intranasal dexamethasone drops for nasal obstruction – Case series and literature review,” was published in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology.

Children with nasal obstruction may have severe delays in development and can face life-threatening complications later in life such as obstructive sleep apnea and cardiopulmonary problems.

While intranasal steroid drops have become increasingly popular as a substitute for surgery, they can have adverse effects. In addition to suppressing the immune system and changing metabolism, high levels of corticosteroids in the blood may cause Cushing’s syndrome.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College presented two cases of adrenal gland insufficiency and Cushing’s syndrome caused by intranasal dexamethasone drops. Dexamethasone is a type of corticosteroid medication.

First, they described the case of a 3-month-old boy who was taken to the hospital following a life-threatening episode at home after feeding. A physical evaluation revealed nasal congestion with no additional anatomic abnormalities.

Treatment with nasal dexamethasone drops three times a day improved his breathing. While the dosage was later decreased to three drops once daily, a congestion episode led the mother to increase the dose back to the initial recommendation.

After seven weeks of treatment, the boy was noted to have facial puffiness, leading to an endocrine evaluation that revealed low cortisol levels. The dose was eventually reduced, and the boy’s cortisol levels returned to normal after several months.

The second case was a 6-week-old boy with a history of chronic congestion and difficulty feeding. He had severe nasal obstruction and required intubation due to respiratory distress. A nasal exam revealed damaged mucosa with severe nasal cavity narrowing, and he began treatment with three ciprofloxacin-dexamethasone drops three times a day.

After two and a half weeks of treatment, the boy’s cortisol levels were considerably low, and adrenal insufficiency was diagnosed. The treatment dose was reduced in an attempt to improve cortisol levels, but nasal obstruction symptoms continued.

The child then underwent surgery to resolve his nasal obstruction, and the treatment with steroid drops was discontinued. While his cortisol levels subsequently improved, they continued to be low, suggesting that he may have a hormone-related disease.

Despite the benefits of steroid-based nasal drops, small infants are more sensitive to steroid compounds. In addition, nasal drops are more easily absorbed than nasal sprays, suggesting that infants taking these medications should be better controlled for side effects.

“Patients started on this therapy must be closely monitored in a multi-disciplinary fashion to ensure patient safety and optimal symptom resolution,” the researchers suggested.


Case Report Shows Rare Adrenal Tumors Associated with Cushing’s Disease

Pituitary tumors that produce too much adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) have been associated with the development of rare tumors on the adrenal glands, called adrenal myelolipomas, for the first time in a case report.

The study, “Case report of a bilateral adrenal myelolipoma associated with Cushing disease,” was published in the journal Medicine.

Myelolipomas, composed of mature fat cells and blood-forming cells, are usually asymptomatic and do not produce hormones. In many cases, these tumors are detected by accident when patients undergo imaging scans for other conditions.

The cause of these tumors is unknown, but due to their benign nature, they do not spread to other parts of the body. However, they can grow up to 34 centimeters (about 13 inches), leading to tissue death and hemorrhage.

Researchers at Soon Chun Hyang University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea, described the case of a 52-year-old man with myelolipoma possibly caused by an ACTH-secreting pituitary tumor.

During a routine checkup, researchers detected a mass in the patient’s spleen. Further abdominal evaluations identified tissue lesions in both adrenal glands consistent with myelolipoma. Besides the masses, the patient did not show any other Cushing-associated physical characteristics.

However, the patient’s ACTH levels were two times higher than the normal upper limit. Cortisol levels were also increased and unresponsive to low-dose dexamethasone treatment.

No additional lesions were found that could help explain the high ACTH and cortisol levels. But analysis of blood samples collected from the veins draining the pituitary glands revealed the right gland was producing too much ACTH, strongly suggesting Cushing’s disease.

Both the left adrenal gland and pituitary tumor were surgically removed. The samples collected during surgery confirmed the benign nature of the adrenal tumors, and the diagnosis of abnormal, ACTH-positive pituitary gland tissue.

Three days after the surgeries, hormone levels were back to normal. But a follow-up evaluation five months later again showed increased ACTH levels. Cortisol levels, however, were normal.

For the next seven years, the patient was evaluated every six months. During a five-year period, the size of the right adrenal gland was found to have grown. Imaging analysis confirmed the existence of small, new lesions in both pituitary glands.

“This case confers valuable information about the clinical course of adrenal myelolipoma associated with Cushing disease,” the researchers said. It also “supports the notion that ACTH can be associated with the development of bilateral adrenal myelolipomas.”


Cushing’s and Hairy Nipples

Hairy nipples are a common condition in women. The amount of hair on the nipples varies, but some women find that the hair becomes long, coarse, and dark, which can be distressing.

Hairy nipples are rarely a cause for concern and are usually not a sign of any underlying health issues. However, occasionally they can signify something more serious, in which case, it is essential to consult a doctor.

Almost every part of a person’s skin is covered in hair and hair follicles. On certain parts of the body, such as the top of the head, the hair usually grows longer and thicker, while on other parts, it is thin and transparent.

Fast facts on hairy nipples:

  • It is not known how common hairy nipples are or how many women have them.
  • Many women do not report the condition and instead manage it themselves.
  • It is possible for hair that used to be fine and light to turn coarse and dark with age.

Causes of hairy nipples in women

There are several underlying reasons that might cause nipple hairs to grow. These are:

Cushing’s syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is another condition caused by hormonal imbalance. When it occurs, there is an excess of cortisol in the body. In this case, a person may experience several symptoms, such as:

  • increased hair growth
  • abnormal menstrual periods
  • high blood pressure
  • a buildup of fat on the chest and tummy, while arms and legs remain slim
  • a buildup of fat on the back of the neck and shoulders
  • a rounded and red, puffy face
  • bruising easily
  • big purple stretch marks
  • weakness in the upper arms and thighs
  • low libido
  • problems with fertility
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • high blood glucose level

Cushing’s syndrome is fairly rare, and the cause is usually associated with taking glucocorticosteroid medicine, rather than the body overproducing the hormone on its own.

It is possible, however, that a tumor in the lung, pituitary gland, or adrenal gland is the cause.


Hormonal changes and fluctuations

Hormonal changes in women can cause many different symptoms, one of which is changes in nipple hair growth and color.

Some common hormonal changes happen during pregnancy and menopause.

However, hormonal changes can also occur when a woman is in her 20s and 30s, which may cause nipple hair to change appearance or become noticeable for the first time.

Overproduction of male hormones

It is possible for hormonal imbalances to cause hairy nipples. Overproduction of male hormones, including testosterone, can cause hair growth, while other symptoms include:

  • oily skin that can lead to breakouts and acne
  • menstrual periods stopping
  • increase in skeletal muscle mass
  • male pattern baldness, leading to a woman losing hair on her head

If overproduction of male hormones is suspected, it is a good idea to make an appointment with a doctor who can confirm this with a simple test.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) occurs because of a hormonal imbalance. PCOS is a condition that affects the way the ovaries work.

Common symptoms of PCOS are:

  • infertility
  • irregular menstrual periods
  • ovarian cysts
  • excessive hair growth in unusual places, such as the nipples

PCOS is believed to affect around 1 in 5 women.


The side effects of particular medicines can cause unusual hair growth.

Medicines, such as testosterone, glucocorticosteroids, and certain other immunotherapy drugs may cause hairy nipples.

What are the treatment options?

Treatment for hairy nipples is not usually necessary for health reasons.

However, many women with the condition prefer to try and reduce or get rid of the appearance of hair on their nipples for cosmetic purposes.

There are several methods by which they can try and do this:

Trimming the nipple hair

Trimming the nipple hair may be enough to reduce its appearance. Small nail scissors are ideal, and hair can be cut close to the skin. It is essential to do this carefully and avoid catching the skin.

Trimming will need to be carried out regularly when the hair grows back.

Tweezing the nipple hair

Tweezing nipple hair is an effective way to get rid of unwanted nipple hair. However, this option can be painful as the skin around the nipple area is particularly soft and sensitive.

It is also important to bear in mind that the hair will return, and tweezing the hair increases the risk of infection and ingrown hairs.

Shaving the nipple hair

Shaving is another option to reduce the appearance of nipple hair. However, it is advisable to do so with caution to avoid nicking the sensitive skin.

This option also carries an increased risk of developing ingrown hairs and infection.


Sugaring or waxing is a good hair removal option, though either one is likely to be painful. A salon is the best place to get this treatment type, as doing this at home may cause damage to the skin. Infection and ingrown hairs are again a risk.

Laser hair removal

These popular treatments can help to reduce the hair growth and slow or even prevent regrowth for a while. However, they can be painful, too.

Laser treatment is by far the most expensive option, as it will need to be performed by a plastic surgeon or cosmetic dermatologist.

Hormonal treatment

If a hormonal imbalance is the cause of hairy nipples, a doctor may prescribe or adjust a woman’s medication therapy to restore a healthy hormonal balance.

Other treatments and how to choose

The above treatments are all commonly used to remove and reduce nipple hair and usually have minimal side effects.

Bleaching or using hair removal cream to treat the condition, however, is not advised as these methods are usually too harsh for this sensitive area and may cause irritation and damage.

At what point should you see a doctor?

Hairy nipples in women are quite common, and there is usually no need to see a doctor. However, if they are accompanied by any other unusual symptoms, it is a good idea to make an appointment.

A doctor will be able to perform tests to determine whether an underlying cause, such as PCOS, is causing the growth of nipple hair. If so, they will give advice and medication therapy to help manage the condition.

A doctor will also be able to advise how to remove nipple hair safely.


For the majority of women, nipple hair may seem unsightly, but it is not a cause for any concerns about their health.

However, because some medical conditions can cause nipple hair to darken and grow, it is important to see a doctor if any other symptoms are experienced.

Nipple hair can usually be easily treated and managed, should a woman choose to try to remove the hair for cosmetic reasons.

Adapted from


Benefits of Medication Before Surgery for Cushing’s Syndrome Still Unclear

In Europe, nearly 20 percent of patients with Cushing’s syndrome receive some sort of medication for the disease before undergoing surgery, a new study shows.

Six months after surgery, these patients had remission and mortality rates similar to those who received surgery as a first-line treatment, despite having worse disease manifestations when the study began. However, preoperative medication may limit doctors’ ability to determine the immediate success of surgery, researchers said.

A randomized clinical trial is needed to conclusively address if preoperative medication is a good option for Cushing’s patients waiting for surgery, they stated.

The study, “Preoperative medical treatment in Cushing’s syndrome. Frequency of use and its impact on postoperative assessment. Data from ERCUSYN,” was published in the European Journal of Endocrinology. 

Surgery usually is the first-line treatment in patients with Cushing’s syndrome. But patients also may receive preoperative medication to improve cortisol excess and correct severe diseases occurring simultaneously with Cushing’s.

Multiple studies have hypothesized that preoperative medication can have a beneficial effect on patients who undergo surgery. However, data on the beneficial impact of medication on morbidity, and the immediate surgical and long-term outcomes in patients with Cushing’s syndrome, are limited and inconclusive.

So, researchers made use of the European Registry on Cushing’s Syndrome (ERCUSYN), the largest database that collects information on diagnosis, management, and long-term follow-up in Cushing’s patients.

The team set out to collect information of the prevalence of preoperative medication in Cushing’s patients throughout Europe, and whether it influences patients’ outcomes after surgery. It also aimed to determine the differences between patients who receive preoperative medication versus those who undergo surgery directly.

Researchers analyzed 1,143 patients in the ERCUSYN database from 57 centers in 26 countries. Depending on what was causing the disease, patients were included in four major groups: pituitary-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (68%), adrenal-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (25%), Cushing’s syndrome from an ectopic source (5%), and Cushing’s syndrome from other causes (1%).

Overall, 20 percent of patients received medication – ketoconazole, metyrapone, or a combination of both – before surgery. Patients with ectopic and pituitary disease were more likely to receive medication compared to patients whose disease stemmed from the adrenal glands. Preoperative treatment lasted for a median of 109 days.

Patients in the pituitary group who were prescribed preoperative medication had more severe clinical features at diagnosis and poorer quality of life compared to those who received surgery as first-line treatment. No differences were found in the other groups.

But patients with pituitary-dependent disease receiving medication were more likely to have normal cortisol within seven days of surgery, or the immediate postoperative period, compared to patients who had surgery without prior medication. These patients also had a lower remission rate.

Within six months of surgery, however, there were no differences in morbidity or remission rates observed between each group. Also, no differences were seen in perioperative mortality rates – within one month of surgery.

Interestingly, researchers noted that patients who took medication prior to surgery were less likely to be in remission immediately after surgery. The reason, they suggest, might be because the medication already had begun to improve the clinical and biochemical signs of the disease, “so changes that take place in the first week after surgery may be less dramatic.”

“A randomized trial assessing simple endpoints, such as length of hospital stay, surgical impression and adverse effects of surgery, is needed to conclusively demonstrate that [preoperative medication] is a valid option in patients waiting for surgical correction of hypercortisolism,” the team concluded.


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