Novel Predictive Model for Adrenal Insufficiency in Dermatological Patients with Topical Corticosteroids Use: A Cross-Sectional Study

Purpose: This study aimed to identify predictive factors and to develop a predictive model for adrenal insufficiency (AI) related to topical corticosteroids use.
Methods: The research was conducted using a cross-sectional design. Adult patients with dermatological conditions who had been prescribed topical steroids for at least 12 months by the dermatology outpatient departments of the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University from June through October 2020 were included. Data on potential predictors, including baseline characteristics and laboratory investigations, were collected. The diagnoses of AI were based on serum 8AM cortisol and low-dose ACTH stimulation tests. Multivariable logistic regression was used for the derivation of the diagnostic score.
Results: Of the 42 patients, 17 (40.5%) had AI. The statistically significant predictive factors for AI were greater body surface area of corticosteroids use, age < 60 years, and basal serum cortisol < 7 μg/dL. In the final predictive model, duration of treatment was added as a factor based on its clinical significance for AI. The four predictive factors with their assigned scores were: body surface area involvement 10– 30% (20), > 30% (25); age < 60 years old (15); basal serum cortisol of < 7 μg/dL (30); and duration of treatment in years. Risk of AI was categorized into three groups, low, intermediate and high risk, with total scores of < 25, 25– 49 and ≥ 50, respectively. The predictive performance for the model was 0.92 based on area under the curve.
Conclusion: The predictive model for AI in patients using topical corticosteroids provides guidance on the risk of AI to determine which patients should have dynamic ACTH stimulation tests (high risk) and which need only close follow-up (intermediate and low risk). Future validation of the model is warranted.

Keywords: adrenal insufficiency, topical corticosteroids, predictive model, skin diseases

Introduction

Topical corticosteroids are frequently used for inflammatory skin diseases owing to their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects. Common indications for use include diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, atopic dermatitis, and vitiligo.1 In clinical practice, a variety of delivery vehicles and potencies of topical corticosteroids are used.1 Prolonged and/or inappropriate use of topical corticosteroids can lead to adverse side effects.2 These adverse side effects can be categorized as cutaneous and systemic side effects. The most common cutaneous side effect is skin atrophy. Systemic side effects include hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis suppression, glaucoma, hyperglycemia and hypertension.3

One of the most worrisome adverse side effects from the use of topical corticosteroids is adrenal insufficiency (AI) resulting from HPA axis suppression. Topically applied corticosteroids can be absorbed systemically through the skin and can suppress the HPA axis.4–8 This adverse outcome, the inability to increase cortisol production after stress, can lead to adrenal crisis, which is potentially life-threatening. Tests that are normally used to diagnose or exclude AI include serum morning cortisol and the dynamic ACTH stimulation test.9

Secondary AI from percutaneous absorption of topical corticosteroids is less common than with parenteral or oral administration. The cumulative doses and the durations of oral corticosteroid therapy associated with HPA axis suppression have been well documented.10 Data regarding the dose and duration of oral corticosteroids and HPA axis suppression have similarly been well established. A study by Curtis et al reported that the use of oral prednisolone >7.5 mg/day for an extended period (>3 weeks) was linked to this adverse event, and that the incidence increased with duration.10 However, corresponding data for topical corticosteroids has been limited. The degree of risk of HPA axis suppression from topical corticosteroids use is associated with the level of percutaneous absorption which, in turn, depends on numerous factors including the age of the patient (younger patients are more susceptible), body surface area treated, quantity of topical corticosteroids used, potency of the drug, duration of therapy, body region of application, the associated compounds used, eg, urea or salicylic acid, the characteristics of the diseased skin, the degree of impairment of skin integrity, and the coexistence of hepatic and/or renal disease.11–13 One study reported that HPA axis suppression occurs when high potency steroids are administered at a cumulative dose per week of >50 g.2

Presently, there is a lack of data on predictive factors for AI and no predicative model of the relationship between secondary AI resulting from HPA axis suppression and topical corticosteroids use. A simple predictive model which could help preclude and predict the risk of AI which incorporates both demographic and biochemical data could potentially reduce the number of dynamic ACTH stimulation tests performed. This study aimed to identify potential predictive factors and to design an easy-to-use model for predicting the risk of AI following topical corticosteroids use in dermatological patients.

Materials and Methods

This cross-sectional study was conducted with 42 patients who were seen at the dermatology outpatient departments at the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University Hospital over a 5-month period (June – October 2020). The study protocol was approved by the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Ethical Committee (Ethical number: MED-2563-07037). Recruited participants were adult dermatological patients (≥18 years) who had used topical corticosteroids for at least 12 months. Patients with pituitary or adrenal diseases, pregnant women and patients who had been treated with either systemic corticosteroids or other local corticosteroids were excluded. Those who meet all the inclusion criteria gave their informed consent prior to the study. This study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

Adrenal Function Evaluation

Adrenal function was evaluated by serum morning (8 AM) cortisol and the low-dose ACTH stimulation test. Patients were instructed to suspend use of topical corticosteroids for at least 24 hours before serum morning cortisol measurement and ACTH stimulation tests. In those with serum morning cortisol between 3 and 17.9 µg/dL, ACTH stimulation tests were performed on the same day between 9–11AM to either exclude or diagnose AI. Serum cortisol concentrations were measured at 8 AM 0 (basal cortisol) as well as 20 and 40 minutes after 5 µg ACTH was administered intravenously.

Data Collection

Epidemiological data collected included gender, age, blood pressure, underlying dermatologic diseases, other underlying diseases, body surface area involvement, sensitive area involvement, topical corticosteroid potency, amount and duration of topical corticosteroids use, symptoms of AI and the presence of Cushingoid features. Biochemical data included serum cortisol at 8 AM, 0 (basal cortisol) and at 20 and 40 minutes after ACTH intravenous injection, serum creatinine, electrolytes and albumin. Serum cortisol levels were measured by electrochemiluminescence assay (ECLIA) (Elecsys® Cortisol II assay, Roche Diagnostics GmbH, Mannheim, Germany).

Definitions

An 8AM cortisol level of ❤ µg/dL or a peak serum cortisol level of <18 µg/dL at 20 or 40 minutes after an ACTH stimulation test was defined as having AI.14 Sensitive area involvement included the axilla, groin, face and genitalia. Topical corticosteroids are classified by potency based on a skin vasoconstriction assay, and range from ultra-high potency (class I) to low potency (class VII).15 Since some patients had concurrently used more than one class of corticosteroids in one treatment period, the new variable potency·dose·time (summary of corticosteroids potency (I–VII)16 multiplied by total doses (mg) of corticosteroids use and multiplied by duration (months) of corticosteroids use) was created. Symptoms of AI included lethargy, nausea and vomiting, orthostatic hypotension and significant weight loss. Significant weight loss was defined as a loss of 5% of body weight in one month or a loss of 10% over a period of six months.17 Having Cushingoid features was defined as at least one of the excess glucocorticoid features, eg, easy bruising, facial plethora, proximal myopathy, striae, dorsocervical fat pad, facial fullness, obesity, supraclavicular fullness, hirsutism, decreased libido and menstrual abnormalities.

Statistical Analysis

All statistical analyses were performed using Stata 16 (StataCorp, College Station, Texas, USA). Categorical variables are reported as frequency and percentage, while continuous variables are reported as mean ± standard deviation or median and interquartile range (IQR), according to their distribution. For univariable comparison, Fisher’s exact probability test was used for categorical variables, and the independent t-test or the Mann–Whitney U-test was used for continuous variables. p-values less than 0.05 were considered statistically significant.

Multivariable logistic regression was used in the derivation of the prediction model for AI. Predictors with significant p-values in the univariable analysis were included in the multivariable model. We also included age and treatment duration in the model due to the clinical significance of those factors.4,18 The clinical collinearity among the predictors was also evaluated before the selection of the predictors. We generated a weighted score for each predictor by dividing the logit coefficient of the predictor by the lowest coefficient in the model. The discriminative ability of the final multivariable model was assessed using the area under the receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curve. The calibration of the scores was evaluated using the Hosmer-Lemeshow goodness-of-fit test, where a p-value >0.01 was considered a good fit. For clinical applicability, the appropriate cut-off points for the scores were identified based on sensitivity and specificity. We identified one cut-off point with high sensitivity for ruling out AI and another cut-off point with high specificity for ruling in AI. The positive predictive value for each score category with its corresponding confidence interval were presented. A sample size of at least 25 patients with at least 5 patients with AI was estimated to give 80% power at the 5% significance level.4 There was no missing data in this study.

Results

Baseline characteristics and biochemical investigations are shown in Table 1. Forty-two patients with dermatological diseases were included in this study. Of these, 17 patients (40.5%) had AI of whom 5 (29.4%) were female. The mean age of the group was 56.5 ±15.4 years, the mean duration of treatment was 10.1 ± 6 years, and the majority of patients had psoriasis (n = 14, 82.4%). There was no significant difference in sex, age, duration of treatment, potency dose-time, comorbidities, or underlying skin disease between the AI and non-AI groups. The average body surface area of corticosteroids use was significantly higher in patients with AI than in the non-AI group (27.5 ±18.7 m2 and 10.7 ±11.7 m2, p < 0.001, respectively). Basal serum cortisol levels were significantly lower in the AI group (6.52 ± 4.04 µg/dL) than in the non-AI group (10.48 ± 3.45 µg/dL, p 0.003). Although lower serum morning cortisol levels were observed in the AI group, the difference was not statistically significant (5.24 ± 4.65 µg/dL vs 13.39 ± 15.68 µg/dL, p = 0.069). Three patients were identified as having Cushingoid features. All patients with Cushingoid features had AI.

Table 1 Comparison of Clinical Characteristics Between Patients with a History of Topical Corticosteroids Use for at Least 12 Months Who Were Diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency and Those without Adrenal Insufficiency (n = 42)

 

Based on the multivariate logistic regression analysis (shown in Table 2), the significant predictive factors for AI in patients who used topical corticosteroids for more than 12 months were body surface area of corticosteroids use of 10–30% and >30% (POR 18.9, p =0.042, and POR 59.2, p = 0.035, respectively), age less than 60 years (POR 13.8, p = 0.04), and basal serum cortisol of <7 µg/dL (POR 131.5, p = 0.003). Only serum basal cortisol was included in the final multivariable model as there was clinical collinearity among serum morning cortisol and basal cortisol as well as 20- and 40-minute cortisol measurements.

Table 2 Multivariable Model for Prediction of Adrenal Insufficiency in Patients with a History of Topical Corticosteroids Use for at Least 12 Months (n = 38)

 

Predictive risk score was created to determine the probability of patients having AI using the aforementioned three significant predictive factors from the multivariable analysis (Table 2). As previous studies have demonstrated that duration of treatment is a strong predictive factor for AI in corticosteroid users,4,18 this factor was also incorporated in the model. The transformed score for body surface area, age and basal serum cortisol had a range of 0 to 30. For treatment duration, the transformed score was based on cumulative years of treatment. The total score was categorized into three groups: low, intermediate, and high risk (Table 3).

Table 3 Accuracy of the Score to Rule in and Rule Out Adrenal Insufficiency in Patients with a History of Topical Corticosteroids Use for at Least 12 Months (n = 38)

 

The cut-off point of ≥50 suggests high risk for developing AI with a sensitivity of 46.2% and a specificity of 100%, a score of <25 suggests a low risk with a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 52%, and a score between 25 and 49 indicates an intermediate risk of having AI. The ROC curve for the model assessing predictive performance which included all significant factors had an AuROC of 0.92 (Figure 1). The Hosmer-Lemeshow goodness-of-fit test revealed non-statistically significant results (p = 0.599), indicating that our newly derived scoring system fits the data well.

Figure 1 Model discrimination via receiver operating characteristic curve in patients with a history of topical corticosteroids use for at least 12 months (n = 42).

 

Discussion

The present study proposes an easy-to-use predictive model for AI following topical corticosteroids use in dermatological patients based on demographic and biochemical factors. The accuracy of the model shows an excellent diagnostic accuracy of 92% based on AuROC. Currently, the diagnosis of AI in dermatological patients with topical corticosteroids use involves multiple steps including screening for serum morning cortisol followed by dynamic ACTH stimulation testing. The proposed simple predictive model, which requires only three demographic data items (age, body surface area of corticosteroids use, duration of use) and one biochemical test (serum basal cortisol), could potentially reduce the number of dynamic ACTH stimulation tests performed, resulting in cost- and time-saving for both patients and health-care facilities.

Based on the proposed cut-off points, we suggest screening of individuals at high risk for having AI, including serum morning cortisol and the ACTH stimulation tests to confirm a diagnosis of AI. If there is evidence of AI, the patient should begin to receive treatment for AI to reduce future complications. For those in the low-risk group, only clinical follow-up should be carried out. In the intermediate-risk group, we recommend regular and close biochemical follow-up including serum morning cortisol and clinical follow-up for signs and symptoms of AI. Signs and symptoms that should raise a high index of suspicion for AI include significant weight loss, nausea and/or vomiting, orthostatic hypotension and lethargy. However, this proposed predictive model was studied in adults and cannot simply be generalized and extrapolated to children or infants.

In our study, 40.5% of the patients were determined to have AI. A previous meta-analysis by Broersen et al reported the percentage of patients with AI secondary to all potencies of topical corticosteroids based on a review of 15 studies was 4.7%, 95% CI (1.1–18.5%).19 The higher prevalence of AI in our study could be a result of differences in patients’ baseline characteristics, eg, duration of treatment, corticosteroids potency and body surface area involvement.

In the predictive model, we incorporated both clinical and biochemical factors which are easy to obtain in actual clinical practice. Some of those predictive factors have been previously reported to be linked to AI. Body surface area of corticosteroids use larger than 10% found to be significantly related to AI, especially in patients with a lesion area of over 30%. This finding is consistent with a study by Kerner et al which suggests the extent of surface area to which the corticosteroids are applied may influence absorption of the drug.20 Regarding the age of the patients, our study found that individuals over 60 years old tended to be at high risk of AI following topical corticosteroids therapy. The underlying explanation is that the stratum corneum acts as a rate-limiting barrier to percutaneous absorption as the stratum corneum in younger individuals is thinner than in older people. Diminished effectiveness of topical corticosteroid treatment in older people was demonstrated in a study by Malzfeldt et al.21 Even though serum basal cortisol is not recommended as a standard test to diagnose AI, a prior study reported that it can be considered as an alternative choice to diagnose AI when serum morning cortisol results are not available. In fact, it has been reported that there is no difference in diagnostic accuracy between serum morning cortisol and basal cortisol22 which supports our finding that serum basal cortisol <7 µg/dL is one of the significant factors related to AI.

The final model found no statistically significant relationship between the incidence of AI and the duration of corticosteroids treatment. However, we decided to include this factor in the final model since previous publications have reported that the duration of treatment is a relevant risk factor for developing AI following continuous topical corticosteroids use. The duration of AI events has been reported to vary between 2 weeks to 18 months.4,18 Additionally, a case report of AI demonstrated that 5 years of topical corticosteroids use can cause AI.6 Together, this suggests that patients with a longer duration of topical corticosteroids use are at increased risk of AI, especially those who also have other risk factors. Although both potency and dosage of topical corticosteroids have been reported to be significantly linked to HPA axis suppression, the present study found only a non-significance link. This could be the result of the small sample size as well as of other factors, eg, body surface area involvement and serum cortisol levels, which could have masked the association between potency and dosage of topical corticosteroids with HPA suppression.

To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to use these novel predictive factors to develop a predictive model for AI in patients using topical corticosteroids. This model has multiple potential implications. First, the model uses clinical and biochemical factors which are obtainable in many institutes. Second, the model’s risk score provides good diagnostic accuracy in terms of both sensitivity and specificity. Finally, each of the predictive factors in the model has an underlying pathophysiological explanation and is not due simply to chance.

There are some limitations in this study. First, the sample size is relatively small, although it does offer sufficient statistical power for each of the predictive factors. Second, further external validation is needed to validate the predictive performance of the model. Third, the cut-off level of serum cortisol after ACTH stimulation test was based on the older generation of ECLIA assay. There was a study proposed that the cut-off for serum cortisol in the newer generation of cortisol assay should be lower (~14–15 µg/dL) than the previous one (18 µg/dL).23 However, this proposed cut-off has not yet been established in the current guideline for AI. In the future, if the newer cut-off for serum cortisol will have been employed in the standard guideline, our predictive model may lead to overdiagnosis of AI.

Conclusions

The proposed predictive model uses both demographic and biochemical factors to determine the risk of AI in dermatological patients following topical corticosteroids use with a high level of diagnostic accuracy. This model has advantages in terms of a reduction in the number of dynamic ACTH stimulation tests needed, thus saving time and resources. Additionally, it can provide guidance to clinical practitioners regarding which patients should be closely followed up for development of AI. Future external validation of this predictive model is warranted.

Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to Lamar G. Robert, PhD and Chongchit S. Robert, PhD for editing the manuscript.

Disclosure

The authors report no conflict of interest in this work.

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2 Health Conditions That Can Cause Hyperpigmentation

Addison’s disease: Hyperpigmentation is a classic symptom of Addison’s disease, an endocrine disorder in which the adrenal glands fails to produce steroid hormone. The disease causes darkening of the skin in certain areas.

Cushing’s syndrome: The abnormal amount of cortisol in the human body causes a condition known as the Cushing’s syndrome. And one of the symptoms of the disorder is hyperpigmentation of the skin.

Adapted from http://www.thehealthsite.com/diseases-conditions/health-conditions-that-can-cause-hyperpigmentation/

A 12-year-old boy died from Addison’s disease after the chance of lifesaving treatment was ‘missed’

The death of a 12-year-old boy who was suffering from undiagnosed Addison’s disease was preventable, an inquest heard.

Ryan Lee Morse had been unwell from July 2012, with his parents noticing his skin darkening and him becoming lethargic and losing weight.

His condition worsened over the following months and he died during the early hours of December 8, 2012.

During the time he was unwell, Ryan’s mother, Carol Ann Morse, took him to Abernant Surgery in Abertillery several times.

She said: “Ryan was rarely ill as a child. In June 2012, which was towards the end of Ryan’s first comprehensive school year, I noticed his skin colour changing.

“His skin seemed to be getting darker.”

She said his joint areas, including elbows and knees, were getting darker. Under his eyes, it looked as if he had not slept for a month. I don’t suppose it worried me at the time because it was gradual.”

A post mortem was held on December 12 by Dr E. J. Lazda, a consultant pathologist at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff who concluded that Ryan died as a result of Addison’s disease.

An inquest into Ryan’s death was held at Newport Coroner’s Court on Thursday.

Dr Yvette Cloette, a consultant paediatrician since 2004, was called during the early hours of December 8, 2012, by a registrar where she was told the details of Ryan’s death.

She said: “Ryan’s parents told me he had been unwell since July.

“It was thought Ryan had been particularly unwell since the Thursday before he passed away. He had to be collected from school that day. On (the) Friday morning, she said he hallucinated. His temperature did settle that afternoon but then he had diarrhoea.

“As his mum was cleaning him, she noticed his genitalia were black.

“I then examined Ryan. At this time I formed the opinion that Ryan may have had Addison’s disease. I didn’t share this with the family at the time because I didn’t have enough evidence.

“I believe that Ryan’s death was preventable. Addison’s is a disease which, once recognised, can be treated.”

She said it was easier to put things together retrospectively, as opposed to when treating an acute illness as a GP.

David Bowen, senior coroner for Gwent, paid tribute to Ryan’s family during the hearing.

“Before summing up, I think it’s right that I pay tribute to the dignity that has been shown by Mrs Morse and her family.

“It can’t have been easy for them to rehear events that took place over five years ago.

“Please accept my belated condolences.”

Mr Bowen told the inquest that Ryan had been fit and well up until July 2012.

“However at about that time, his parents began to notice a gradual change in his skin and a fluctuation in his general health.”

He had been diagnosed with a viral infection and prescribed Paracetamol, he said.

Over the next six to eight weeks, he did not improve.

Mr Bowen said: “Consequently, his mother took him back to the doctor. The GP was more concerned about the rash, it seems to me, than any of the other symptoms.

“He prescribed tablets and cream for that condition.”

Mr Bowen said that during October and November 2012, “Ryan’s health became much more of a concern for his parents.”

He suffered from headaches, pains in his legs, and occasional episodes of projectile vomiting.

On November 7, Mrs Morse took Ryan back to the GP surgery, where she described symptoms to Dr Rudling, who took samples of blood.

On November 21, they returned to receive the blood test results.

The results revealed a “slightly lower than normal” white blood cell count. The inquest heard Ryan was told he was still suffering from a viral infection that had been diagnosed some months earlier.

Mr Bowen said: “It appears that about this time, there was an outbreak of Norovirus or vomiting and sickness in the area that may have confused the diagnosis.”

Mrs Morse said: “I’d been told to bring Ryan back in January so I thought I would just get Christmas out of the way and take him back. I’d been a carer for 9-10 years but my job didn’t give me any insight into what Ryan had.”

On November 29, 2012, Ryan returned to school, but around a week later on December 6 he was so ill that his mum had to collect him early.

The following day, on December 7, Mrs Morse rang Abernant Surgery saying she needed to speak to a doctor.

Between 8.50am and 8.55am, she received a call from Dr Lyndsey Elizabeth Thomas.

Mrs Morse said: “She asked if he’d been given Paracetamol and I explained he wouldn’t take it. She asked what his temperature was like.

“I’d said Ryan was awake (that morning) and talking rubbish.”

The inquest heard Mrs Morse was asked to take Ryan to the surgery, but she said she was unable to.

“She then told me to give Ryan some dissolvable Paracetamol and see how it goes until dinner. She said fetch him up if you need to.”

Dr Lyndsey Elizabeth Thomas said her contact with Ryan was limited to a single telephone conversation with his mother on December 7.

She said: “I considered whether Ryan needed to be seen or admitted to hospital.

“I clearly recall explaining that if she had any concerns or if Ryan’s delirium or temperature didn’t improve in two hours, he would need to be seen, I would be able to go and visit him at the end of the morning surgery if necessary.”

Mrs Morse said she later noticed that her son’s genitals were black.

She rang the surgery and was put her through to Dr Rudling.

Mrs Morse said: “She said ‘it’s all to do with his hormones’. Phone Monday and we’ll fit him in. At this point I didn’t know what to think.

“I was thinking I’ll take him in on Monday and see what they say. There was no more temperature, no more sickness and no more diarrhoea.”

The inquest heard Dr Joanne Louise Rudling, who qualified in 1993, joined Abernant in August 2011.

She said her first contact with Ryan was in November 2012.

On December 7, Dr Rudling said the receptionist took a call from Ryan’s mother while she was in reception.

Dr Rudling said: “I decided to speak to Ryan’s mother in reception there and then.

“She also asked if this could be age related, I said it could be but I would have to examine him first.

“The impression I got was Ryan was improving. His mother was concerned about the darkening of his genitalia.”

Ryan’s father said goodnight around 10.15pm and went to bed. At around 11.10pm Mrs Morse could see Ryan had fallen asleep, and went to sleep herself at around 11.30pm.

She said: “I woke up and saw it was 4.10am and then I looked at Ryan and looking at his chest could see he wasn’t breathing.

“I started to do chest compressions, dialled 999, continued chest compressions until the paramedics arrived. They took over. They told me Ryan had died.”

Mr Bowen said: “This is a rare but natural disease, one which apparently GPs will not normally encounter.

“Unfortunately, neither doctor nor parents thought it necessary to refer Ryan to hospital, where the true nature of his illness may have been diagnosed.”

Recording a narrative conclusion, Mr Bowen said Ryan died of natural causes.

He said: “The opportunity to administer life-saving treatment was missed.”

Speaking after the inquest, Ryan’s sister Christina Morse said: “First of all I would like to thank everyone involved with Ryan and Ryan’s case.

“Today, after five long years, the coroner has come to the conclusion that Ryan’s death was due to natural causes and that Ryan’s death was preventable.”

From http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/boy-died-addisons-disease-after-13687355

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/

 

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

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