Exogenous Cushing’s syndrome due to a Chinese herbalist’s prescription of ointment containing dexamethasone

BMJ Case Reports 2017; doi:10.1136/bcr-2016-218721


Eczema in children is a chronic disabling condition. The impact of this condition on the lives of families is often underestimated by conventional physicians. As a consequence parents may investigate complementary treatment options. Close monitoring by a paediatrician is essential, considering that a variety of adverse effects can occur during the use of complementary treatment.

We present a 5-year-old girl with eczema. She visited a Chinese herbalist who prescribed an ointment. The parents noticed that the eczema resolved fast, itching decreased and she was finally sleeping well. However, her behaviour changed and appetite increased. Undetectable levels of serum cortisol were found, which was indicative of exogenous Cushing’s syndrome. Analysis of the ointment revealed the presence of dexamethasone.

Hydrocortisone substitution and subsequently a reduction schedule were implemented, after which endogenous cortisol production recovered after 4 months. Physicians should be aware that unregistered herbal medicine can contain potent drugs such as glucocorticoids.

Read more at http://casereports.bmj.com/content/2017/bcr-2016-218721.short?rss=1


Cushing’s Syndrome and Skin Problems

By Afsaneh Khetrapal, BSc (Hons)

Cushing’s Syndrome (sometimes called hypercortisolism) is a hormonal disease caused by an abnormally high level of the hormone cortisol in the body. This may arise because of an endogenous or exogenous source of cortisol. Endogenous causes include the elevated production of cortisol by the adrenal glands, while exogenous causes include the excessive use of cortisol or other similar steroid (glucocorticoid) hormones over a prolonged period of time.

The adrenal glands are situated just above each kidney, and form part of the endocrine system. They have numerous functions such as the production of hormones called catecholamines, which includes epinephrine and norepinephrine. Interestingly, the outer layer (cortex) of the adrenal glands has the distinct responsibility of producing cortisol. This hormone is best known for its crucial role in the bodily response to stress.

At physiologically appropriate levels, cortisol is vital in maintaining normal sleep-wake cycles, and acts to increase blood sugar levels. It suppresses the immune system, regulates the effect of insulin on the metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, and help with the homeostasis of water in the body.

Exogenous corticosteroids can also lead to Cushing’s syndrome, when they are used as a form of long-term treatment for various medical conditions. In fact, the long-term use of steroid medication is the most common reason for the development of Cushing’s syndrome.

Prednisolone is the most commonly prescribed steroid medicine. It belongs to a class of medicine that is sometimes used to treat conditions such as certain forms of arthritis and cancer. Other uses include the rapid and effective reduction of inflammation in conditions such as asthma and multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as the treatment of autoimmune conditions such as lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Overall, Cushing’s syndrome is quite uncommon and affects approximately 1 in 50,000 people. Most of them are adults between the ages of 20 and 50.  Women are 3 times more commonly affected than men. Additionally, patients who are obese, or those who have type 2 diabetes with poorly controlled blood sugar and blood pressure show a greater predisposition to the disorder.

Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome

There are numerous symptoms associated with Cushing’s syndrome, which range from muscle weakness, hypertension, curvature of the spine (kyphosis), osteoporosis, and depression, to fatigue Specific symptoms which pertain to the skin are as follows:

  • Thinning of the skin and other mucous membranes: the skin becomes dry and bruises easily. Cortisol causes the breakdown of some dermal proteins along with the weakening of small blood vessels. In fact, the skin may become so weak as to develop a shiny, paper-thin quality which allows it to be torn easily.
  • Increased susceptibility of skin to infections
  • Poor wound healing  of bruises, cuts, and scratches
  • Spots appear on the upper body, that is, on the face, chest or shoulders
  • Darkened skin which is seen on the neck
  • Wide, red-purple streaks (at least half an inch wide) called striae which are most common on the sides of the torso, the lower abdomen, thighs, buttocks, arms, and breasts, or in areas of weight gain. The accumulation of fat caused by Cushing’s syndrome stretches the skin which is already thin and weakened due to cortisol action, causing it to hemorrhage and stretch permanently, healing by fibrosis.
  • Acne: this can develop in patients of all ages.
  • Swollen ankles: this is caused by the accumulation of fluid, called edema.
  • Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)

Reviewed by Dr Liji Thomas, MD

From http://www.news-medical.net/health/Cushings-Syndrome-and-Skin-Problems.aspx

Time to Recovery of Adrenal Function After Curative Surgery for Cushing’s Syndrome Depends on Etiology

Address all correspondence and requests for reprints to: Martin Reincke, MD, Medizinische Klinik und Poliklinik IV, Klinikum der Universität München, Ziemssenstr. 1, D-80336 Munich, Germany. E-mail: .

Successful tumor resection in endogenous Cushing’s syndrome (CS) results in tertiary adrenal insufficiency requiring hydrocortisone replacement therapy.

The aim was to analyze the postsurgical duration of adrenal insufficiency of patients with Cushing’s disease (CD), adrenal CS, and ectopic CS.

We performed a retrospective analysis based on the case records of 230 patients with CS in our tertiary referral center treated from 1983–2014. The mean follow-up time was 8 years.

We included 91 patients of the three subtypes of CS undergoing curative intended surgery and documented followup after excluding cases with persistent disease, pituitary radiation, concurrent adrenostatic or somatostatin analog treatment, and malignant adrenal disease.

The probability of recovering adrenal function within a 5 years followup differed significantly between subtypes (P = .001). It was 82% in ectopic CS, 58% in CD and 38% in adrenal CS. In the total cohort with restored adrenal function (n = 52) the median time to recovery differed between subtypes: 0.6 years (interquartile range [IQR], 0.03–1.1 y) in ectopic CS, 1.4 years (IQR, 0.9–3.4 y) in CD, and 2.5 years (IQR, 1.6–5.4 y) in adrenal CS (P = .002). In CD the Cox proportional-hazards model showed that the probability of recovery was associated with younger age (hazard ratio, 0.896; 95% confidence interval, 0.822–0.976; P = .012), independently of sex, body mass index, duration of symptoms, and basal ACTH and cortisol levels. There was no correlation with length and extend of hypercortisolism or postoperative glucocorticoid replacement doses.

Time to recovery of adrenal function is dependent on the underlying etiology of CS.

Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 17


Another of Robin’s wonderful images.

A similar image from the CushieWiki


No wonder Cushing’s is so hard to diagnose!

maryo colorful zebra

Remaining calm = Reducing illness

Have you ever noticed that when you are “stressed” you can feel either emotionally/physically depleted or energized?  When our body is under stress the brain responds by producing epheniphrine or adrenaline, sending signals to our adrenal glands, increasing the rate at which our heart beats while releasing oxygen to our muscles.  The long term response to this process produces cortisol (aka the stress hormone) facilitating the release of energy throughout our body.  However, when our body isn’t properly balanced these hormones can wreak havoc on our wellness possibly resulting in one of three conditions:  Cushing’s syndrome, Cushing’s disease or Addison’s disease.

adrenal-glandsThe actual Adrenal glands sit physically atop both kidneys, taking on a triangular shape and a roundish rectangular type shape.  These glands are responsible for our sex hormones and cortisol, helping us respond to stress amongst other functions.  When our body is under stress, physically and/or nutritionally, it responds one of two ways:  Produces too much or too little of the cortisol hormone.  Our Adrenal glands also contribute to regulating our blood sugar, blood pressure, salt and water.

Adrenal disorders can cause our body to make too much or not enough of these hormones, bringing about adrenal gland related syndromes and disease.  Cushing’s syndrome results from our body making too much versus Addison’s disease produces too little.

Cushing’s syndrome vs. Cushing’s disease

Glucocorticoids (naturally produced in our body or received through medicine) are groups of corticosteroids (cortisol or dexamethasone) involved in metabolizing our carbohydrate and protein.  When taken synthetically (i.e. treatment of allergies, skin problems, and respiratory problems) or over-produced naturally, the side effects can result in “Cushing’s syndrome”.

Cushing’s syndrome can occur one of two ways:  Endogenous or Exogenous.  Endogenous is caused by the body (usually through tumors).  Exogenous is caused by medication.  In both cases, the body produces too much cortisol.

Symptoms: Severe fatigue/muscle weakness, high blood sugar and high blood pressure, upper body obesity, thin arms/legs, bruising easily

Treatment:  The cure and treatment for Cushing’s disease can come through medicine, surgery, or by lowering the dosage of your current synthetic hormone treatment.  Cushing’s syndrome can be cured.

Cushing’s disease is the most common form of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome and is likely treatable.  Caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland secreting too much Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), this type of tumor does not spread and can be removed through surgery.

Nutrition:  See a nutritionist or dietician for your condition.  Mostly, avoid excess sodium.  High blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and high blood pressure can easily occur with this condition.  Bone loss density is common with this condition, so be extra aware of your calcium (800 – 1200 mg per day, based upon age) and Vitamin D intake (5mcg from age 0-50, increasing up to 10 mcg 50-71, and 15 mcg after 71).  Eating healthy, balanced and whole food (versus processed) is extremely important.

(Resource:  http://www.aboutcushings.com/understanding-cushings-disease/causes-and-differences.jsp)

Addison’s disease

Opposite from Cushing’s syndrome, Addison’s disease doesn’t make “enough” of the sex hormones and cortisol.  The result of this disease causes our immune system to attack our tissue, damaging our adrenal glands.

Symptoms:  Weight loss, muscle weakness, increasingly worse fatigue, low blood pressure and patchy or dark skin.

Treatment:  If left untreated, the condition can be fatal.  Lifetime hormone treatment is usually required. Addison disease patients should always carry medical/emergency ID on them, listing their medication, dosage and disease

Lab tests can confirm that you have Addison’s disease. If you don’t treat it, it can be fatal. You will need to take hormone pills for the rest of your life. If you have Addison’s disease, you should carry an emergency ID. It should say that you have the disease, list your medicines and say how much you need in an emergency.”

(Ref: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/cushingssyndrome.html, NIH: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Learning how to balance our stress-filled lives is extremely important to our overall health.  Healthy nutrition always contributes benefits to our overall wellness.  We can overwhelm our endocrine system by simply not eating nutritionally.  Understanding that “Food is a drug” is vitally important to how we help our body naturally heal itself.  The above two conditions are the result of our body not handling the stress we are putting it through, causing our body to producing too much or too little of the sex hormones and cortisol.

Unless we first address what we can do naturally through nutrition, the medicine we consume will only do so much in helping our body heal completely.  You simply cannot continue doing the same thing over and over again, expecting the medicine to do all the work.  Some diseases are brought upon us through our environment (emotionally as well as physically) as well as our diet/nutrition.  Reviewing our entire wellness is always wisdom whenever we’re diagnosed with anything.

Certainly listen to your doctor and their advice.  But also ask your doctor to refer you to a nutritionist or clinical/registered dietician for a complete evaluation that includes a review of your nutritional diet/wellness.  Too often we reach for a pill or a procedure to “fix” our health problems, ignoring what we should be doing on our own to help our body heal.  Medical intervention is the result of providing our body with what it cannot produce on its own.  Nutrition should always be the “natural” medicine we take, as well as what we might need through prescribed medication.

Adapted from (Spelling errors corrected) http://hamptonroads.com/2013/10/remaining-calm-reducing-illness

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