High cortisol: Symptoms and signs

When we become stressed out bodies release cortisol – the stress hormone – which helps us cope with challenges. Cortisol’s role is to convert protein into energy by releasing glycogen and counteract inflammation. When cortisol is released in the body temporarily, this is okay and won’t have long-lasting detrimental effects to health as it is a natural response to a stressor. But when cortisol levels remain high chronically it can eventually begin to tear your body down thus causing health complications. This is why numerous health experts recommend the reduction of stress as much as possible because in the long run it can harm our health.

High cortisol levels over the long term can destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, and weaken the immune system. Additionally, adrenal fatigue has been linked to numerous other health conditions including fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, premature menopause, and many others. High cortisol levels are also associated with many unwanted symptoms which we will outline below.

High cortisol symptoms

If you’re concerned about your cortisol levels, the following signs and symptoms associated with high cortisol levels can alert you and prompt you to make the necessary changes in order to reduce cortisol levels.

  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Skin symptoms including acne, skin infections, lesions, thin-appearing skin, bruising, growing facial hair, and reddish purple streaks on skin
  • Muscle and bone symptoms like a deep pain in the bones, weak muscles, chronic backaches, increased risk of bone fractures
  • Gender specific changes such as women developing male-pattern hair growth, irregular menstrual cycles, low libido, infertility
  • Neurological symptoms such as depression, irritability, headaches, chronic fatigue, and anxiety
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Poor sleep or lack of sleep
  • Swelling of hands and feet

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you may want to have your cortisol levels checked to confirm diagnosis. Living with high cortisol levels over the long term can have detrimental effects on a person’s health. Treating high cortisol as soon as possible can lower the risk of long-term health problems.

Causes of high cortisol

There are two main causes of high cortisol: Chronic stress and more rarely, Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease is caused by a hormone-secreting tumor on the adrenal gland which results in the release more cortisol than required.

Living with chronic stress also leads to high cortisol because the release of cortisol is a natural response from the body when it is stressed. The hypothalamic–pituitary-adrenal [HPA] axis is what regulates the timely release of cortisol during acute stress, but when stress becomes chronic the feedback from the HPA becomes damaged and so cortisol continues to be released.

Conditions that can contribute to chronic stress and high cortisol include:

  • Depression
  • Panic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetes
  • Severe obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Working in shifts
  • End-stage kidney disease
  • Chronic pain

Tips to lower high cortisol

Here are some tips that can help you lower your high cortisol levels and thus prevent long-term health problems associated with high cortisol. [MaryO’Note:  These will not work if you have active Cushing’s!    You must remove  the source of your Cushing’s first.]

  • Eat a well balanced meal with plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoid sugars, consume low glycemic index foods, avoid processed foods, eat a wide variety of health foods to ensure you receive all essential vitamins and nutrients
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Take time out of each day to relax – listen to music, meditate, pray, perform your favorite hobby, anything that promotes relaxation
  • Take up yoga or tai chi
  • Ensure you are getting adequate sleep
  • Drink tea
  • Watch funny videos or hang out with a funny friend
  • Go for a massage
  • Do something spiritual – attend a service
  • Chew gum
  • Limit caffeine intake
  • Stretch

By incorporating these helpful tips into your life you will find that your high cortisol symptoms begin to diminish and your overall health begins to improve.

From http://www.belmarrahealth.com/high-cortisol-symptoms-signs-look/

 

16 Years Old!

happybirthday-2015

It’s unbelievable but the idea for Cushing’s Help and Support arrived 16 years ago last night.  That’s a long time for anything online.

I was talking with my dear friend Alice, who ran a wonderful menopause site called Power Surge, wondering why there weren’t many support groups online (OR off!) for Cushing’s and I wondered if I could start one myself and we decided that I could.

The first website (http://www.cushings-help.com) first went “live” July 21, 2000 and the message boards September 30, 2000. Hopefully, with these sites, I’m making some helpful differences in someone else’s life!

The message boards are very active and we have weekly online text chats, occasional live interviews, local meetings, email newsletters, a clothing exchange, a Cushing’s Awareness Day Forum, podcasts, phone support and much more.

Whenever one of the members of the boards gets into NIH, I try to go to visit them there. Other board members participate in the “Cushie Helper” program where they support others with one-on-one support, doctor/hospital visits, transportation issues and more.

Of course, we now have a Facebook page and 2 groups.  Both are secret, so if you want to join, please email  or PM me for an invitation.

Other sites in the Cushing’s Help “Family”

 

maryo colorful zebra

8th Annual Johns Hopkins Pituitary Patient Day

Johns Hopkins Pituitary Patient Day

Join us on Saturday, September 17, 2016

8th Annual Johns Hopkins Pituitary Patient Day
Saturday, September 17, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
Location:
Johns Hopkins Mt. Washington Conference Center
5801 Smith Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21209
map and directions

This is a free event, but seating is limited. Reserve your space now: Please R.S.V.P. by September 9, 2016 by email (preferred) to PituitaryDay@jhmi.edu  or by calling Alison Dimick at 410-955-3921.

Agenda

9:30 – 9:55 a.m.: Registration

9:55 – 10:00 a.m.: Welcome and Acknowledgements

10:00 – 10:25 a.m.: Different Kinds of Tumors in the Pituitary Area: Non-Functioning, Acromegaly, Cushing, etc. (Roberto Salvatori, M.D.)

10:25 – 10:50 a.m.: The Pituitary Gland, Cortisol and Stress (Gary Wand, M.D.)

10:50 – 11:10 a.m.: A Patient’s Story

11:10 – 11:30 a.m.: The Eye and the Pituitary Gland: Why It’s Important to SEE the Right Doctor (Pun Intended) (Dan Gold, D.O.)

11:30 – 11:50 a.m.: Surgery for Pituitary Tumors: (Not So Scary) Pictures from the Operating Room Treating Acromegaly, Cushing and Non-Functioning Tumors (Gary Gallia, M.D., Ph.D.)

11:50 a.m. – 12:10 p.m.: Coordinating the Care of Pituitary Patients: It Takes a Village (Pituitary Nurse)

12:10 – 12:30 p.m.: Radiation Therapy for Cushing, Acromegaly and Non-Functioning Tumors: A Good Option when Needed (Lawrence Kleinberg, M.D.)

12:30 – 1:25 p.m.: Lunch

1:30 – 3:00 p.m. Round Table Discussions:

  • Medical: Making Sense of So Many Medications
  • Surgical: Meet Surgeons and Patients Who Have Had Pituitary Surgery
  • Radiation: Share Your eX-peRience!

Why Was This Woman Gaining Weight Despite Her Diet?

“I just can’t seem to lose weight,” the 59-year-old woman said quietly. She had tried everything, she told the young doctor, who was training to be an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Weight Watchers. Exercise. She ate more vegetables, less fat, then fewer carbs. But still she was gaining weight, 30 pounds during the past seven months, including 12 in the past two weeks. She had never been skinny, she continued, but shapely. In her mid-40s, she started gaining weight, slowly at first, then rapidly. She was considering bariatric surgery, but she wanted to make sure she wasn’t missing something obvious. She had low thyroid hormones and had to take medication. Could her thyroid be off again?

The doctor asked her about symptoms associated with a low thyroid-hormone level. Fatigue? Yes, she was always tired. Changes in her hair or skin? No. Constipation? No. Do you get cold easier? Never. Indeed, these days she usually felt hot and sweaty.

It was probably not the thyroid, the doctor said. She asked if the woman had any other medical problems. She had high blood pressure and high cholesterol — both well controlled with medications. She also had obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which the soft tissue at the back of the throat collapse during sleep, cutting off air flow and waking the person many times throughout the night. She had a machine that helped keep her airway open, and she used it every night. She also had back pain, knee pain and carpal-tunnel syndrome. The pain was so bad that she had to retire from her job years before she was ready.

Big, Bigger, Biggest

The doctor examined her, then went to get Dr. Donald Smith, an endocrinologist and director of lipids and metabolism at Mount Sinai’s cardiovascular institute. After hearing a summary of the case, Smith asked the patient if she had anything to add. She did: She didn’t understand why she was getting so much bigger. Her legs were huge. She used to have nice ankles, but now you could hardly see them. Her doctor had given her a diuretic, but it hadn’t done a thing. Everything was large — her feet, her hands, even her face seemed somehow bigger. She hardly recognized the woman in the mirror. Her doctors just encouraged her to keep trying to lose weight.

Worth a Thousand Words

“Let me show you a picture,” she said suddenly and reached over to her purse. The patient’s sister had made a comment recently that led the patient to wonder whether the changes she saw in the mirror were more than simple aging. The patient pulled out a photograph of an attractive middle-aged woman and handed it to Smith. That was me eight years ago, she told him. Looking at the two faces, it was hard to believe they belonged to the same woman. Smith suspected this was something more than the extra pounds.

Two possibilities came to mind. Each was a disease of hormonal excess; each caused rapid weight gain. The first was Cushing’s disease, caused by overproduction of one of the fight-or-flight hormones, cortisol. The doctor looked at the patient, seeking clues. On her upper back, just below her neck, the woman had a subtle area of enlargement. This discrete accumulation of fat, called a buffalo hump, can occur with normal weight gain but is frequently seen in patients with Cushing’s. Do you bruise more easily these days? he asked. Cushing’s makes the skin fragile. No, she said. Did she have stretch marks on her stomach from the weight gain? The rapid expansion of the abdomen can cause the fragile skin to develop dark purple stretch lines. No. So maybe it wasn’t Cushing’s.

Find out the answer at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/04/17/magazine/17mag-diagnosis.html#/#7

Day 30, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

Today is the final day of the Cushing’s Awareness Challenge and I wanted to leave you with this word of advice…

To that end, I’m saving some of what I know for future blog posts, maybe even another Cushing’s Awareness Challenge next year.  Possibly this will become a tradition.

I am amazed at how well this Challenge went this year, giving that we’re all Cushies who are dealing with so much.   I hope that some folks outside the Cushing’s community read these posts and learned a little more about us and what we go through.

So, tomorrow, I’ll  go back to posting the regular Cushing’s stuff on this blog – after all, it does have Cushing’s in its name!

I am trying to get away from always reading, writing, breathing Cushing’s and trying to celebrate the good things in my life, not just the testing, the surgery, the endless doctors.

If you’re interested, I have other blogs about traveling, friends, fun stuff and trying to live a good life, finally.  Those are listed in the right sidebar of this blog, past the Categories and before the Tags.

Meanwhile…

Time-for-me

Choose wisely…

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