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

Given Adrenal Symptoms, Blood Test Recommended

adrenal-glands

 

Q: My husband’s recent CT scan of his stomach and digestive system revealed that he has nodules on both adrenal glands. It was suggested that he undergo a blood test to determine whether the nodules are producing hormones.

For 21 months, he has experienced high blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety and abdominal pain. Could this be the source of his problems? If so, what course of action would you recommend?

A: The adrenal gland is responsible for the production of several essential hormones.

Tumors, or nodules, of the adrenal glands are common. They can be categorized into those that make hormones and those that don’t, and also by whether the tumors are benign or malignant.

The most common, by far, are benign, nonfunctioning tumors. These are usually discovered on an ultrasound or a CT scan obtained for some other reason.

More than 4 percent of people have an adrenal mass, and 85 percent are nonfunctional.

The symptoms that your husband has, however, raise a concern that he might have a hormone-producing tumor.

Four types of hormones are commonly produced by adrenal tumors: cortisone, aldosterone, sex hormones (estrogen or androgens) and catecholamines (epinephrine and norepinephrine).

A cortisone-producing adrenal tumor causes Cushing’s syndrome. It usually causes weight gain, especially in the abdomen; skin changes, including striae, or “stretch marks”; high blood pressure; and a predisposition to diabetes. Anxiety and abdominal pain are uncommon.

Aldosterone raises blood pressure, so a person with a functioning adrenal tumor making aldosterone usually has high blood pressure, but the other symptoms you mention for your husband aren’t common for this type of tumor.

Adrenal tumors that make epinephrine and the related norepinephrine are called pheochromocytomas. Hypertension is almost universal with this condition, and anxiety is frequently reported.

Tumors that produce sex hormones are rare, and they are present in men with androgen excess or feminization, in the case of estrogen-secreting tumors.

Although your husband’s symptoms aren’t specific for any one condition, the combination of his symptoms and adrenal nodules concerns me.

I agree with the recommendation to look for excess amounts of hormones in the blood. This can often be achieved with a simple blood test; however, a catheter is occasionally placed in the adrenal vein to sample blood coming from the gland (and its nodule) directly.

By comparing one side against the other, doctors can determine which side might be producing excess hormones.

An endocrinologist is the expert most likely to be familiar with these conditions.

Dr. Roach answers letters only in his North America Syndicate column but provides an order form of available health newsletters at http://www.rbmamail.com. Write him at 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32853-6475; or ToYour GoodHealth@med. cornell.edu.

From http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/life_and_entertainment/2015/07/27/given-adrenal-symptoms-blood-test-recommended.html

Adrenal Glands

adrenal-glandsAnatomy of the adrenal glands:

Adrenal glands, which are also called suprarenal glands, are small, triangular glands located on top of both kidneys. An adrenal gland is made of two parts: the outer region is called the adrenal cortex and the inner region is called the adrenal medulla.

Function of the adrenal glands:

The adrenal glands work interactively with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the following process:

  • the hypothalamus produces corticotropin-releasing hormones, which stimulate the pituitary gland.
  • the pituitary gland, in turn, produces corticotropin hormones, which stimulate the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroid hormones.

Both parts of the adrenal glands — the adrenal cortex and the adrenal medulla — perform very separate functions.

What is the adrenal cortex?

The adrenal cortex, the outer portion of the adrenal gland, secretes hormones that have an effect on the body’s metabolism, on chemicals in the blood, and on certain body characteristics. The adrenal cortex secretes corticosteroids and other hormones directly into the bloodstream. The hormones produced by the adrenal cortex include:

  • corticosteroid hormones
    • hydrocortisone hormone – this hormone, also known as cortisol, controls the body’s use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
    • corticosterone – this hormone, together with hydrocortisone hormones, suppresses inflammatory reactions in the body and also affects the immune system.
  • aldosterone hormone – this hormone inhibits the level of sodium excreted into the urine, maintaining blood volume and blood pressure.
  • androgenic steroids (androgen hormones) – these hormones have minimal effect on the development of male characteristics.

What is the adrenal medulla?

The adrenal medulla, the inner part of the adrenal gland, is not essential to life, but helps a person in coping with physical and emotional stress. The adrenal medulla secretes the following hormones:

  • epinephrine (also called adrenaline) – this hormone increases the heart rate and force of heart contractions, facilitates blood flow to the muscles and brain, causes relaxation of smooth muscles, helps with conversion of glycogen to glucose in the liver, and other activities.
  • norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline) – this hormone has little effect on smooth muscle, metabolic processes, and cardiac output, but has strong vasoconstrictive effects, thus increasing blood pressure.

From: University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology

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