Common signs and symptoms of hypercortisolism

Some of the physical symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome are easier to notice than others. Most of these signs and symptoms occur when you have too much cortisol (known as hypercortisolism) in your body for too long. Your doctor or nurse will look for specific physical signs of Cushing’s syndrome and may do some tests to better understand your symptoms. These include 1,2:

  • A round (moon-shaped) and/or red face
  • Purplish streaks across the skin
  • Unusual buildup of fatty tissue between the shoulder blades (sometimes called “buffalo hump”)
  • Unusual buildup of fatty tissue in the abdominal area with thin arms and legs
  • Easy bruising
  • Excess facial/body hair growth (called “hirsutism”) in women

Other signs and symptoms caused by elevated cortisol levels include headaches, backaches, swelling, feeling very tired, feeling irritable, appetite changes, memory problems, sleeping problems, repeated infections, acne, hair loss, and wounds healing too slowly. 3-5 Most of the signs and symptoms can be caused by other health conditions that are more common.

It is important that you are accurately diagnosed with either Cushing’s disease or Cushing’s syndrome to help determine the cause and appropriate action plan. Tell your doctor about any symptoms you experience and ask if Cushing’s syndrome or Cushing’s disease could be the cause.

Next, read about ways to diagnose Cushing’s disease

References: 1. Dorland's Dictionary Online Web site. http://www.dorlands.com. Accessed November 9, 2010. 2. The Hormone Foundation’s patient guide to the diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome. The Hormone Foundation. http://www.hormone.org/resources/patient_guides/upload/mgmt-cushings-syndrome-070609.pdf. Accessed August 4, 2009. 3. Newell-Price J, Bertagna X, Grossman AB, Nieman LK. Cushing’s syndrome. Lancet. 2006;367:1605-1617. 4. Nieman LK, Ilias I. Evaluation and treatment of Cushing’s syndrome. Am J Med. 2005;118:1340-1346. 5. Nieman LK, Biller BMK, Findling JW, et al. The diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome: an Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008;93:1526-1540.