Cushing’s Syndrome Treatments

Medications, Surgery, and Other Treatments for Cushing’s Syndrome

Written by | Reviewed by Daniel J. Toft MD, PhD

Treatment for Cushing’s syndrome depends on what symptoms you’re experiencing as well as the cause of Cushing’s syndrome.

Cushing’s syndrome is caused by an over-exposure to the hormone cortisol. This excessive hormone exposure can come from a tumor that’s over-producing either cortisol or adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH—which stimulates the body to make cortisol). It can also come from taking too many corticosteroid medications over a long period of time; corticosteroids mimic the effect of cortisol in the body.

The goal of treatment is to address the over-exposure. This article walks you through the most common treatments for Cushing’s syndrome.

Gradually decreasing corticosteroid medications: If your doctor has identified that the cause of your Cushing’s syndrome is corticosteroid medications, you may be able to manage your Cushing’s syndrome symptoms by reducing the overall amount of corticosteroids you take.

It’s common for some people with certain health conditions—such as arthritis and asthma—to take corticosteroids to help them manage their symptoms. In these cases, your doctor can prescribe non-corticosteroid medications, which will allow you to reduce—or eliminate—your use of corticosteroids.

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t stop taking corticosteroid medications on your own—suddenly stopping these medications could lead to a drop in cortisol levels—and you need a healthy amount of cortisol. When cortisol levels get too low, it can cause a variety of symptoms, such as muscle weakness, fatigue, weight loss, and low blood pressure, which may be life-threatening.

Instead, your doctor will gradually reduce your dose of corticosteroids to allow your body to resume normal production of cortisol.

If for some reason you cannot stop taking corticosteroids, your doctor will monitor your condition very carefully, frequently checking to make sure your blood glucose levels as well as your bone mass levels are normal. Elevated blood glucose levels and low bone density are signs of Cushing’s syndrome.

Surgery to remove a tumor: If it’s a tumor causing Cushing’s syndrome, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the tumor. The 2 types of tumors that can cause Cushing’s are pituitary tumors (also called pituitary adenomas) and adrenal tumors. However, other tumors in the body (eg, in the lungs or pancreas) can cause Cushing’s syndrome, too.

Pituitary adenomas are benign (non-cancerous), and most adrenal tumors are as well. However, in rare cases, adrenal tumors can be malignant (cancerous). These tumors are called adrenocortical carcinomas, and it’s important to treat them right away.

Surgery for removing a pituitary tumor is a delicate process. It’s typically performed through the nostril, and your surgeon will use tiny specialized tools. The success, or cure, rate of this procedure is more than 80% when performed by a surgeon with extensive experience. If surgery fails or only produces a temporary cure, surgery can be repeated, often with good results.

If you have surgery to remove an adrenal tumor or tumor in your lungs or pancreas, your surgeon will typically remove it through a standard open surgery (through an incision in your stomach or back) or minimally invasive surgery in which small incisions are made and tiny tools are used.

In some cases of adrenal tumors, surgical removal of the adrenal glands may be necessary.

Radiation therapy for tumors: Sometimes your surgeon can’t remove the entire tumor. If that happens, he or she may recommend radiation therapy—a type of treatment that uses high-energy radiation to shrink tumors and/or destroy cancer cells.

Radiation therapy may also be prescribed if you’re not a candidate for surgery due to various reasons, such as location or size of the tumor. Radiation therapy for Cushing’s syndrome is typically given in small doses over a period of 6 weeks or by a technique called stereotactic radiosurgery or gamma-knife radiation.

Stereotactic radiosurgery is a more precise form of radiation. It targets the tumor without damaging healthy tissue.

With gamma-knife radiation, a large dose of radiation is sent to the tumor, and radiation exposure to the healthy surrounding tissues is minimized. Usually one treatment is needed with this type of radiation.

Medications for Cushing’s syndrome: If surgery and/or radiation aren’t effective, medications can be used to regulate cortisol production in the body. However, for people who have severe Cushing’s syndrome symptoms, sometimes medications are used before surgery and radiation treatment. This can help control excessive cortisol production and reduce risks during surgery.

Examples of medications your doctor may prescribe for Cushing’s syndrome are: aminoglutethimide (eg, Cytadren), ketoconazole (eg, Nizoral), metyrapone (eg, Metopirone), and mitotane (eg, Lysodren). Your doctor will let you know what medication—or combination of medications—is right for you.

You may also need to take medication after surgery to remove a pituitary tumor or adrenal tumor. Your doctor will most likely prescribe a cortisol replacement medication. This medication helps provide the proper amount of cortisol in your body. An example of this type of medication is hydrocortisone (a synthetic form of cortisol).

Experiencing the full effects of the medication can take up to a year or longer. But in most cases and under your doctor’s careful supervision, you can slowly reduce your use of cortisol replacement medications because your body will be able to produce normal cortisol levels again on its own. However, in some cases, people who have surgery to remove a tumor that causes Cushing’s syndrome won’t regain normal adrenal function, and they’ll typically need lifelong replacement therapy.2

Treating Cushing’s Syndrome Conclusion
You may need one treatment or a combination of these treatments to effectively treat your Cushing’s syndrome. Your doctor will let you know what treatments for Cushing’s syndrome you’ll need.

From https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/cushings-syndrome/cushings-syndrome-treatments

Severe Trauma May Damage The Brain as Well as the Psyche

NOTE: This is only a portion of the article.  Read the entire post at http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/01/science/severe-trauma-may-damage-the-brain-as-well-as-the-psyche.html?pagewanted=all

Cortisol is a major means the body uses, with adrenaline, to arouse itself so quickly; its action, for example, triggers an increase in blood pressure and mobilizes energy from fat tissue and the liver.

“The dark side of this picture is the neurological effects,” said Dr. Sapolsky. “It’s necessary for survival, but it can be disastrous if you secrete cortisol for months or years on end. We’ve known it could lead to stress-exacerbated diseases like hypertension or adult onset diabetes. But now we’re finding the hippocampus is also damaged by these secretions.”

Studies in animals show that when glucocorticoids are secreted at high levels for several hours or days, there is a detectable effect on memory, though no neuronal death. But with sustained release from repeated stress, “it eventually kills neurons in the hippocampus,” said Dr. Sapolsky. “This has been shown solidly in rats, with the cell biology well understood.”

A parallel effect has long been known among patients with Cushing’s disease, a hormonal condition in which tumors in the adrenal or pituitary glands or corticosteroid drugs used for a prolonged time cause the adrenal glands to secrete high levels of a hormone called ACTHm and of cortisol. Such patients are prone to a range of diseases “in any organ with stress sensitivity,” including diabetes, hypertension and suppression of the immune system, said Dr. Sapolsky.

Cushing’s patients also have pronounced memory problems, especially for facts like where a car was parked. “The hippocampus is essential for transferring such facts from short-term to long-term memory,” said Dr. Sapolsky.

In 1993, researchers at the University of Michigan reported that magnetic resonance imaging had shown an atrophy and shrinkage of the hippocampus in patients with Cushing’s disease; the higher their levels of cortisol, the more shrinkage.

In an apparent paradox, low levels of cortisol in post-trauma victims were found in a separate research report, also in the July issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry. Dr. Rachel Yehuda, a psychologist at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York City, found the lower levels of cortisol in Holocaust survivors who had been in concentration camps 50 years ago and who still had post-traumatic symptoms.

“There are mixed findings on cortisol levels in trauma victims, with some researchers finding very high levels and others finding very low levels,” said Dr. Sapolsky. “Biologically speaking, there may be different kinds of post-traumatic stress.”

In a series of studies, Dr. Yehuda has found that those post-trauma patients who have low cortisol levels also seem to have “a hypersensitivity in cell receptors for cortisol,” she said. To protect itself, the body seems to reset its cortisol levels at a lower point.

The low cortisol levels “seem paradoxical, but both too much and too little can be bad,” said Dr. Yehuda. “There are different kinds of cells in various regions of the hippocampus that react to cortisol. Some atrophy or die if there is too little cortisol, some if there is too much.”

Dr. Yehuda added, “In a brain scan, there’s no way to know exactly which cells have died.”

To be sure that the shrinkage found in the hippocampus of trauma victims is indeed because of the events they suffered through, researchers are now turning to prospective studies, where before-and-after brain images can be made of people who have not yet undergone trauma, but are at high risk, or who have undergone it so recently that cell death has not had time to occur.

Dr. Charney, for example, is planning to take M.R.I. scans of the brains of emergency workers like police officers and firefighters and hopes to do the same with young inner-city children, who are at very high risk of being traumatized over the course of childhood and adolescence. Dr. Pitman, with Dr. Yehuda, plans a similar study of trauma victims in Israel as they are being treated in emergency rooms.

Dr. Yehuda held out some hope for people who have suffered through traumatic events. “It’s not necessarily the case that if you’ve been traumatized your hippocampus is smaller,” she said. She cited research with rats by Dr. Bruce McEwen, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University, showing that atrophied dendritic extensions to other cells in the hippocampus grew back when the rats were given drugs that blocked stress hormones.

Dr. Sapolsky cited similar results in patients with Cushing’s disease whose cortisol levels returned to normal after tumors were removed. “If the loss of hippocampal volume in trauma victims is due to the atrophy of dendrites rather than to cell death, then it is potentially reversible, or may be so one day,” he said.

NOTE: This is only a portion of the article.  Read the entire post at http://www.nytimes.com/1995/08/01/science/severe-trauma-may-damage-the-brain-as-well-as-the-psyche.html?pagewanted=all

Causes of Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome—also referred to as hypercortisolism—is fairly rare. However, researchers have boiled down a few key causes of Cushing’s syndrome, which you’ll read about below.

The cause of Cushing’s syndrome boils down to: Your body is exposed to too much cortisol. There are a few ways that this over-exposure can happen, including taking certain medications and having a tumor on your pituitary gland or adrenal gland.

Can Taking Corticosteroids Cause Cushing’s Disease?
One particular type of medication can cause Cushing’s syndrome: corticosteroids. But rest assured: Not all steroid medications cause Cushing’s syndrome. It’s more common to develop Cushing’s syndrome from steroids you take in pill form or steroids you inject. Steroid creams and steroids you inhale are not common causes of Cushing’s syndrome.

Some steroid medications have the same effect as the hormone cortisol does when produced in your body. But as with an excessive production of cortisol in your body, taking too much corticosteroid medications can, over time, lead to Cushing’s syndrome.

It’s common for people with asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus to take corticosteroids. Prednisone (eg, Deltasone) is an example of a corticosteroid medication.

Other Cushing’s Disease Causes
Your body can over-produce cortisol or adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The pituitary gland secretes ACTH, which is in charge of stimulating the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, and the adrenal glands are responsible for releasing cortisol into the bloodstream.

Cortisol performs important tasks in your body, such as helping to maintain blood pressure and regulate how your body metabolizes proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, so it’s necessary for your body to maintain normal levels of it.

The following can cause excessive production of cortisol or ACTH, leading to Cushing’s syndrome.

  • Pituitary gland tumors: A benign (non-cancerous) tumor of the pituitary gland can secrete an excess amount of ACTH, which can cause Cushing’s syndrome. Also known as pituitary adenomas, benign tumors of the pituitary gland affect women 5 times more often than men.
  • Adrenal gland tumors: A tumor in one of your adrenal glands can lead to Cushing’s syndrome by causing too much cortisol to enter your bloodstream. Most of these tumors are non-cancerous (called adrenal adenomas).

    Cancerous adrenal tumors—called adrenocortical carcinomas—are relatively rare. These types of tumors typically cause extremely high levels of cortisol and very rapid development of symptoms.

  • Other tumors in the body: Certain tumors that develop outside the pituitary gland can also produce ACTH. When this happens, it’s known as ectopic ACTH syndrome. Ectopic means that something is in an abnormal place or position. In this case, only the pituitary gland should produce ACTH, so if there is a tumor producing ACTH and it isn’t located on the pituitary, it’s ectopic.

    It’s unusual to have a tumor that secretes ACTH outside the pituitary. These tumors are usually found in the pancreas, lungs, or thyroid, and they can be benign or malignant (cancerous).

    The most common forms of ACTH-producing tumors are small cell lung cancer, which accounts for about 13% of all lung cancer cases, and carcinoid tumors—small, slow-growing tumors that arise from hormone-producing cells in various parts of the body.

  • Familial Cushing’s syndrome: Although it’s rare, Cushing’s syndrome can develop from an inherited tendency to have tumors on one or more of your endocrine glands. Some inherited conditions, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN 1), can involve tumors that over-produce cortisol or ACTH, leading to Cushing’s syndrome.

If you think you could have Cushing’s syndrome or you have questions about the causes of Cushing’s syndrome, talk to your doctor immediately.

Written by | Reviewed by Daniel J. Toft MD, PhD, adapted from  http://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/cushings-syndrome/cushings-syndrome-causes

Pituitary Gland: Normal Function and Assessment

Abstract

This computer-based, interactive module introduces preclinical medical students to normal pituitary function and outlines its assessment. Solid understanding of these topics is requisite to learning clinical disorders of the pituitary.

Existing resources largely target learners at earlier or later stages of training; thus, we created this resource to address needs of medical students during a first- or second-year endocrine course. A module format was selected to promote interactive, independent learning.

Two cohorts of medical students completed the 40-minute module: 172 second-year students who had completed a year of basic sciences in the traditional curriculum and 180 foundation-phase students in a three-semester combined basic and clinical sciences curriculum (due to a change in the medical school curriculum at our institution). In both instances, the module was completed before start of clinical pituitary content. A static set of PowerPoint slides accompanied the module to facilitate note taking.

Test Your Knowledge slides were inserted to ensure grasp of key terms/concepts before moving to subsequent slides. A short question-and-answer session was held following module completion to clarify points of confusion. Students rated effectiveness of the module as 4.6 out of 5, commenting on its clarity, organization, high-yield nature, and utility in preparing for clinical material.

Faculty noted greater understanding of foundational pituitary principles and more engaging discussions. The percentage of pituitary-related questions answered correctly on the midterm exam increased.

Finally, success of the pituitary module prompted development of adrenal, thyroid, and parathyroid modules that now comprise the Endocrine Organs Introduction Series in our curriculum.

Citation

Kirk D, Smith KW. Pituitary gland: normal function and assessment. MedEdPORTAL Publications. 2016;12:10430. http://dx.doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.10430

Educational Objectives

After completing this module, the learner will be able to:

  1. Describe the normal function and regulation of the pituitary gland, including names and actions of the anterior and posterior pituitary hormones.
  2. Understand the basic approach to laboratory assessment of the pituitary.
  3. Differentiate between anterior and posterior pituitary origin, function, and regulation.
  4. List the hormones produced by the pituitary gland.
  5. Discuss for each pituitary hormone: hypothalamic stimulating/inhibiting factors and their clinical uses, basic physiologic function, and regulation (feedback loop).
  6. Describe factors that affect growth hormone levels.
  7. Understand the tests for growth hormone excess and deficiency.
  8. Define a primary versus secondary endocrine disorder.

Keywords

  • Endocrine, Endocrinology, Pituitary, Module, Preclinical Medical Education

More information at https://www.mededportal.org/publication/10430

Six controversial issues on subclinical Cushing’s syndrome

Abstract

Subclinical Cushing’s syndrome is a condition of hypercortisolism in the absence of signs specific of overt cortisol excess, and it is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, fragility fractures, cardiovascular events and mortality.

The subclinical Cushing’s syndrome is not rare, being estimated to be between 0.2–2 % in the adult population. Despite the huge number of studies that have been published in the recent years, several issues remain controversial for the subclinical Cushing’s syndrome screening, diagnosis and treatment.

The Altogether to Beat Cushing’s syndrome Group was founded in 2012 for bringing together the leading Italian experts in the hypercortisolism-related diseases. This document represents the Altogether to Beat Cushing’s syndrome viewpoint regarding the following controversial issues on Subclinical Cushing’s syndrome (SCS):

(1) Who has to be screened for subclinical Cushing’s syndrome?
(2) How to screen the populations at risk?
(3) How to diagnose subclinical Cushing’s syndrome in patients with an adrenal incidentaloma?
(4) Which consequence of subclinical Cushing’s syndrome has to be searched for?
(5) How to address the therapy of choice in AI patients with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome?
(6) How to follow-up adrenal incidentaloma patients with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome surgically or conservatively treated?

Notwithstanding the fact that most studies that faced these points may have several biases (e.g., retrospective design, small sample size, different criteria for the subclinical Cushing’s syndrome diagnosis), we believe that the literature evidence is sufficient to affirm that the subclinical Cushing’s syndrome condition is not harmless and that the currently available diagnostic tools are reliable for identifying the majority of individuals with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome.

Keywords

Subclinical hypercortisolism, Adrenal incidentalomas, Hypertension, Diabetes, Osteoporosis

%d bloggers like this: