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/

 

‘Adrenal Fatigue’ Not Always Used Accurately

Dear Dr. Roach: I had apoplexy, a ruptured pituitary tumor, developed panhypopituitarism, then adrenal insufficiency. I am doing fairly well with cortisol replacement, thyroid supplement and oral diabetic medicine.

My problem is exhaustion that comes on very easily. I have other ailments to blame, too — chronic pain from fibromyalgia and tendinitis. I am 67. I am still able to work. Is adrenal fatigue a real issue, and if so, what can be done about it? — S.M.

Answer: The term “adrenal fatigue” is increasingly used, and not always correctly — or, at least, it is used in cases where it’s not clear if that is actually the case. But let me start by discussing what has happened to you. Pituitary apoplexy is bleeding into the pituitary gland, usually into a pituitary tumor, as in your case. This may cause severe headaches and vision changes, and often it prevents the pituitary from making the many important hormones that control the endocrine glands and regulate the body.

For example, without TSH from the pituitary gland, the thyroid won’t release thyroid hormone, and importantly, the adrenal gland can’t make cortisol without the influence of ACTH from the pituitary.

Rather than trying to replace TSH, ACTH and the other pituitary hormones, it is easier to directly replace the hormones made by the adrenal, thyroid and gonads. That’s why you are taking cortisol and thyroid hormone, and why younger women take estrogen and men testosterone. Although there is nothing wrong with your thyroid and adrenal glands, they simply won’t work unless stimulated.

Inadequate adrenal function from any cause leads to profound fatigue, and in the presence of severe stress, such as surgery or major infection, the body’s need for cortisol increases dramatically. Unless enough adrenal hormone is given in response, the result can be an immediate life-threatening condition called an Addisonian crisis.

Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.

From http://www.vnews.com/To-Your-Good-Health–Adrenal-Fatigue–not-Always-Used-Accurately-1802516

Is Cushing’s really that rare? Or is it simply undiagnosed?

Here are some thoughts from the Cushing’s Help message boards over the years.

  • Is this really such a rare disease, or more of a rare diagnosis? I mean, I remember when Thyroid issues were taboo and non-existant to regular docs, but now they all see to know something and are recognizing the issues…Seriously, if only 10-15 in every million have Cushings, how on earth did a well visited forum get created???
  • My personal opinion is a rare diagnosis….I see people with acne covered red moon faces, frontal obesity and a hump and just shake my head. If I can talk to them I will mention it but I am super sensitive about my weight and don’t want to insult anyone.
  • I believe it is both. The disease itself is rare, but more and more people are coming forward. I don’t think it is as rare as they think it is in research. It is also rare to find an educated physician for this disease. They are out there, but why aren’t there more? This makes for rare diagnosis. It is not like I can walk down the street and see tons of people with cushings symptoms, but now that I am aware of it I DO see some.
  • i believe until it is not so underdiagnosed we will never know if it is actually rare.
  • I don’t think it’s as rare as doctors think it is. I think the problem is they send people out based on individual symptoms versus looking at them all as a package. For example I got sent to: a psychiatrist for depression, a gastroenterologist for stomach stuff (diarrhea and constipation), an endocrinologist for the hormone/insulin issues, a neurologist for the headaches, an OB/GYN for the “missed periods” and an opthamologist for the vision issues. None of them talk to each other and none of them work together. How could they make a diagnosis of anything other than their specialty based on that? I think until docs take a team approach, it won’t be diagnosed more.
  • We all tend to think it is rarely diagnosed, more than it being a rare disease. Then, you get into the whole idea of, what causes it anyway?

    Who knows? Nobody knows for sure, but say it is from our environmental issues. Maybe it’s from chemicals we are exposed to, and this is how our bodies react. Then if it is environmental, you will start to see more and more people with it because more and more people are exposed to the same environmental issues. Maybe the same thing causes cancer in some people, and pituitary tumors in others. I’m not saying this is the case, I’m just throwing ideas out there. You didn’t hear of Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia 30 yrs. ago either. Maybe in another 30 yrs., Cushing’s will be a disease that most people know about. That would mean more people getting diagnosed, and it would seem that Cushing’s would be on the rise, but awareness is probably the key.

  • What do YOU think?
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