Differences Between Cushing’s Syndrome and Cushing’s Disease

What’s the difference between Cushing’s Disease and Cushing’s Syndrome?

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Cushing’s syndrome is a hormonal disorder

Cortisol is a normal hormone produced in the outer portion of the adrenal glands. When functioning normally, cortisol helps the body respond to stress and change. It mobilizes nutrients, modifies the body’s response to inflammation, stimulates the liver to raise blood sugar, and helps control the amount of water in the body. Cortisol production is regulated by the adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), produced in the pituitary gland. Spontaneous overproduction of cortisol in the adrenals is divided into two groups – those attributed to an excess of ACTH and those that are independent of ACTH.

Cushing’s syndrome is the term used to describe a group of symptoms that occur when a persons’ cortisol levels are too high (known as hypercortisolism) for too long. The majority of people have Cushing’s syndrome because they are regularly taking certain medicine(s) that continually add too much cortisol to the body. Doctors call this an “exogenous” (outside the body) cause of Cushing’s syndrome. Other people have Cushing’s syndrome because something is causing the adrenal gland(s) to overproduce cortisol. Doctors call this an “endogenous” (inside the body) cause of Cushing’s syndrome.

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Cushing’s disease is a form of Cushing’s syndrome

Cushing’s disease is the most common form of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome. It is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland that secretes excessive amounts of a hormone called Adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH. Fortunately, this type of tumor is typically benign. Unlike a cancerous (malignant) tumor, a benign tumor stays in its original location and will not spread. After you are diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome, it is important that your doctor continues the diagnostic process to determine the cause of hypercortisolism.

From the message boards It is not only a tumor that causes Cushings Disease—many of us have the rarer form of this rare disease which is Pituitary Hyperplasia. It also causes CD and may be nodular (shown on MRI s a tumor) or dispersed (meaning spread throughout the gland).

How a pituitary tumor causes Cushing’s disease

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ACTH is a hormone produced in your pituitary gland. ACTH travels to your adrenal glands and signals them to produce cortisol.

Pituitary adenomas are benign tumors of the pituitary gland which secrete increased amounts of ACTH, causing excessive cortisol production. Most patients have a single adenoma. First described in 1912 by neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing in his book The Pituitary Body and its Disorders, Cushing’s disease is the most common cause of spontaneous Cushing’s syndrome, accounting for 60 to 70 percent of cases.

If a person has Cushing’s disease, it means that a group of abnormal cells has built up in the pituitary gland to form an ACTH-producing pituitary tumor. These abnormal cells produce ACTH, just as normal pituitary gland cells do—only far too much. The excess ACTH travels to adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are then bombarded with signals to produce more and more cortisol. As a result, the adrenal glands continuously secrete too much cortisol.

Ectopic ACTH Syndrome

Some benign or malignant (cancerous) tumors that arise outside the pituitary can produce ACTH. This condition is known as ectopic ACTH syndrome. Lung tumors cause more than 50 percent of these cases. Other less common types of tumors that can produce ACTH are thymomas, pancreatic islet cell tumors, and medullary carcinomas of the thyroid.

Adrenal Tumors

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An abnormality of the adrenal glands such as an adrenal tumor may cause Cushing’s syndrome. Most of these cases involve non-cancerous tumors called adrenal adenomas, which release excess cortisol into the blood.

Adrenocortical carcinomas, or adrenal cancers, are the least common cause of Cushing’s syndrome. Cancer cells secrete excess levels of several adrenal cortical hormones, including cortisol and adrenal androgens. Adrenocortical carcinomas often cause very high hormone levels and rapid onset of symptoms.

Familial Cushing’s syndrome

Most cases of Cushing’s syndrome are not genetic. However, some individuals may develop Cushing’s syndrome due to an inherited tendency to develop tumors of one or more endocrine glands. In Primary Pigmented Micronodular Adrenal Disease, children or young adults develop small cortisol-producing tumors of the adrenal glands. In Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type I (MEN I), hormone secreting tumors of the parathyroid glands, pancreas and pituitary occur. Cushing’s syndrome in MEN I may be due to pituitary, ectopic or adrenal tumors.

Risk factors

Obesity, type 2 diabetes, poorly controlled blood glucose (blood sugar levels), and high blood pressure may increase the risk of developing this disorder.

Adapted from http://www.cushiewiki.com/index.php?title=Cushing%27s_Disease_or_Syndrome

Day Seventeen, Cushing’s Help Challenge

Way back when we first got married, my husband thought we might have a lot of kids.  He was from a family of 6 siblings, so that’s what he was accustomed to.  I am on only child so I wasn’t sure about having so many.

I needn’t have worried.

In January, 1974 I had a miscarriage.  I was devastated. My father revealed that my mother had also had a miscarriage.  I had no idea.

At some point after this I tried fertility drugs.  Clomid and another drug.  One or both drugs made me very angry/depressed/bitchy (one dwarves I left off the image)  Little did I know that these meds were a waste of time.

Eventually,  I did get pregnant and my wonderful son, Michael was born.  It wasn’t until he was seven that I was finally, actually diagnosed with Cushing’s.

When I had my early Cushing’s symptoms, I thought I was pregnant again but it was not to be.

I’ll never forget the fall when he was in second grade.  He was leaving for school and I said good bye to him.  I knew I was going into NIH that day for at least 6 weeks and my future was very iffy.  He just turned and headed off with his friends…and I felt a little betrayed.

Michael wrote this paper on Cushing’s when he was in the 7th grade. From the quality of the pages, he typed this on typing paper – no computers yet!

Click on each page to enlarge.

When Michael started having headache issues in middle school, I had him tested for Cushings.  I had no idea yet if it could be familial but I wasn’t taking any chances.  It turned out that my father had also had some unnamed endocrine issues.  Hmmm…

I survived my time and surgery at NIH and Michael grew up to be a wonderful young man, if an only child.  🙂

After I survived kidney cancer (see the post from April 12) Michael and I went zip-lining – a goal of mine after surviving that surgery.  This was taken in a treetop restaurant in Belize.

For the mathematically inclined, this is his blog.  Xor’s Hammer.  I understand none of it.

Inheritance.

Inheritance..

Do pituitary issues run in families?

I responded to the above post with:

I posted the link above on my FB in the hopes that some of the folks I know with familial Cushing’s will respond to you. I know of several families like this.

After I had my pituitary surgery and my son started having some similar symptoms, I had him tested. Of course, at the time, the doctor said that there was no way that Cushing’s would run in families. Another thing we now know not to be true.

My son failed his Cushing’s testing at the time but even now he has symptoms of other endocrine issues. I have learned that my father was seeing a specialist for his endocrine issues when I was a child. He’s long gone now and my mother doesn’t remember, or won’t tell, what he was being tested for.

I wish you the best for you and your daughter.

via Inheritance..

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