A 2010 article in U.K.’s Daily Mail by Glenys Roberts unveiled much of the mystery surrounding the death of Elvis Presley. In addition to migraines, an enlarged heart, arthritis, and much more, Roberts added, “Hospital tests established that Elvis had hepatitis, an enlarged liver ( possibly from painkillers) and Cushing’s syndrome. The last was a hormonal disease that caused bloating, and was down to the many steroids he had been taking to combat the asthma that ran in the family and his ongoing colon problems.”

What Causes Cushing’s?

Understanding the main function of cortisol explains Cushing’s (also called Cushing) syndrome. When the body is exposed to high levels of cortisol for long periods of time, it results in Cushing’s. That’s why it’s also called hypercortisolism. One reason your body might be exposed to too much cortisol for a long time is due to extreme and sustained stress. However, the National Center for Health Research argues that there’s no evidence that Cushing’s is directly or even indirectly caused by stress. Have you had an experience that counters this claim? Please tell us about it in the comments.

As appears to have been the case with Elvis, Cushing’s syndrome is most commonly caused by taking oral corticosteroid medication. But it can also come about from other conditions, like a tumor in the pituitary gland or adrenal gland disease. Experts add that, “It’s not usually a condition that’s passed in families. In some rare cases, though, people develop it because a problem in their genes makes them more likely to get tumors on their glands.”

cushing's syndrome

Signs and Symptoms

The Mayo Clinic explains that symptoms include “a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on your skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, type 2 diabetes.” They add that “common signs and symptoms involve progressive obesity and skin changes, such as:

  • Weight gain and fatty tissue deposits, particularly around the midsection and upper back, in the face (moon face), and between the shoulders (buffalo hump)
  • Pink or purple stretch marks (striae) on the skin of the abdomen, thighs, breasts and arms
  • Thinning, fragile skin that bruises easily
  • Slow healing of cuts, insect bites and infections
  • Acne

There are other symptoms specific to women, such as thicker or more visible body and facial hair, as well as irregular or absent menstruation. Symptoms specific to men include decreased libido and fertility, as well as erectile dysfunction.

 Other signs and symptoms include:
  • Severe fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Depression, anxiety and irritability
  • Loss of emotional control
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • New or worsened high blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Bone loss, leading to fractures over time
  • In children, impaired growth

Treatment Options

Since Cushing’s can have various causes, the treatment of it is based on that. For example, if your cortisol is high because of medications like corticosteroids , your doctor will likely take you off of those or possibly reduce your dosage. It is essential that this happen under a physician’s care to avoid other health hazards. Alternatively, if your Cushing’s is the result of a tumor, you may require surgery to remove it or radiation to shrink it. Medications can also be used to control excessive cortisol production.

The Mayo Clinic also offers some direction for self-care, but cautions patients to remember that Cushing’s didn’t develop overnight. Thus, managing your symptoms won’t be a quick fix either. They recommend the following tips:

  • Increase activities slowly. You may be in such a hurry to get your old self back that you push yourself too hard too fast, but your weakened muscles need a slower approach. Work up to a reasonable level of exercise or activity that feels comfortable without overdoing it. You’ll improve little by little, and your persistence will be rewarded.
  • Eat sensibly. Nutritious, wholesome foods provide a good source of fuel for your recovering body and can help you lose the extra pounds that you gained from Cushing syndrome. Make sure you’re getting enough calcium and vitamin D. Taken together, they help your body absorb calcium, which can help strengthen your bones, counteracting the bone density loss that often occurs with Cushing syndrome.
  • Monitor your mental health. Depression can be a side effect of Cushing syndrome, but it can also persist or develop after treatment begins. Don’t ignore your depression or wait it out. Seek help promptly from your doctor or a therapist if you’re depressed, overwhelmed or having difficulty coping during your recovery.
  • Gently soothe aches and pains. Hot baths, massages and low-impact exercises, such as water aerobics and tai chi, can help alleviate some of the muscle and joint pain that accompanies Cushing syndrome recovery.

This is republished article. Originally this article was published by