What Is Cushing's Disease in Humans?


Quick Answer

Cushing’s disease is a medical condition caused by an excess release of adrenocorticotropic hormone from the pituitary gland. The most common cause of this disease is the presence of a noncancerous tumor in the pituitary gland, which causes the gland to release too much ACTH, explains MedlinePlus.

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The ACTH released from the pituitary gland stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, a stress hormone that controls glucose, protein, carbohydrate metabolism and inflammation. Under normal circumstances, this hormone is released when the body is under stress. In Cushing’s disease, it is continuously produced because the pituitary gland does not respond to the negative feedback from the adrenal glands, notes Kirk et al. for the American Family Physician journal.

Symptoms of Cushing’s disease include obesity of the upper trunk; thin arms and legs; a round and full face; and slow growth in children. Skin changes include acne; skin infections; large purple marks on the abdomen, thighs and breasts; and thin, fragile skin on the arms and legs, according to MedlinePlus.

Cushing’s disease can also cause musculoskeletal problems such as bone thinning; an increased incidence of fractures; backache; generalized bone pain and tenderness; a collection of fat between the shoulders; and muscle weakness. Mental changes are also frequent and include depression, anxiety, behavior changes, fatigue, headache and increased thirst and urination, states MedlinePlus. Women often have excess hair on the face, neck, chest, abdomen and thighs and menstrual irregularities. Symptoms in men include a decreased libido and impotence.

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