😱 Cushing’s Syndrome: A Tale of Frequent Misdiagnosis

Jessica Rotham, National Center for Health Research

What is it?

Cushing’s syndrome is a condition you probably have never heard of, but for those who have it, the symptoms can be quite scary.  Worse still, getting it diagnosed can take a while.  Cushing’s syndrome occurs when the tissues of the body are exposed to high levels of cortisol for an extended amount of time. Cortisol is the hormone the body produces to help you in times of stress. It is good to have cortisol at normal levels, but when those levels get too high it causes health problems.  Although cortisol is related to stress, there is no evidence that Cushing’s syndrome is directly or indirectly caused by stress.

Cushing’s syndrome is considered rare, but that may be because it is under-reported. As a result, we don’t have good estimates for how many people have it, which is why the estimates for the actual number of cases vary so much–from 5 to 28 million people.[1] The most common age group that Cushing’s affects are those 20 to 50 years old.  It is thought that obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure may increase your risk of developing this syndrome.[2]

What causes Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome is caused by high cortisol levels. Cushing’s disease is a specific form of Cushing’s syndrome. People with Cushing’s disease have high levels of cortisol because they have a non-cancerous (benign) tumor in the pituitary gland.  The tumor releases adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), which causes the adrenal glands to produce excessive cortisol.

Cushing’s syndrome that is not Cushing’s disease can be also caused by high cortisol levels that result from tumors in other parts of the body.  One of the causes is “ectopic ACTH syndrome.” This means that the hormone-releasing tumor is growing in an abnormal place, such as the lungs or elsewhere.  The tumors can be benign, but most frequently they are cancerous. Other causes of Cushing’s syndrome are benign tumors on the adrenal gland (adrenal adenomas) and less commonly, cancerous adrenal tumors (adrenocortical carcinomas). Both secrete cortisol, causing cortisol levels to get too high.

In some cases, a person can develop Cushing’s syndrome from taking steroid medications, such as prednisone. These drugs, known as corticosteroids, mimic the cortisol produced by the body. People who have Cushing’s syndrome from steroid medications do not develop a tumor.[3]

What are the signs and symptoms of Cushing’s Syndrome?

The appearance of people with Cushing’s syndrome starts to change as cortisol levels build up. Regardless of what kind of tumor they have or where the tumor is located, people tend to put on weight in the upper body and abdomen, with their arms and legs remaining thin; their face grows rounder (“moon face”); they develop fat around the neck; and purple or pink stretch marks appear on the abdomen, thighs, buttocks or arms. Individuals with the syndrome usually experience one or more of the following symptoms: fatigue, muscle weakness, high glucose levels, anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure. Women are more likely than men to develop Cushing’s syndrome, and when they do they may have excess hair growth, irregular or absent periods, and decreased fertility.[4]

Why is Cushing’s Syndrome so frequently misdiagnosed?

These symptoms seem distinctive, yet it is often difficult for those with Cushing’s syndrome to get an accurate diagnosis.  Why?  While Cushing’s is relatively rare, the signs and symptoms are common to many other diseases. For instance, females with excess hair growth, irregular or absent periods, decreased fertility, and high glucose levels could have polycystic ovarian syndrome, a disease that affects many more women than Cushing’s.   Also, people with metabolism problems (metabolic syndrome), who are at higher than average risk for diabetes and heart disease, also tend to have abdominal fat, high glucose levels and high blood pressure.[5]

Problems in testing for Cushing’s

When Cushing’s syndrome is suspected, a test is given to measure cortisol in the urine. This test measures the amount of free or unbound cortisol filtered by the kidneys and then released over a 24 hour period through the urine. Since the amount of urinary free cortisol (UFC) can vary a lot from one test to another—even in people who don’t have Cushing’s—experts recommend that the test be repeated 3 times. A diagnosis of Cushing’s is given when a person’s UFC level is 4 times the upper limit of normal.  One study found this test to be highly accurate, with a sensitivity of 95% (meaning that 95% of people who have the disease will be correctly diagnosed by this test) and a specificity of 98% (meaning that 98% of  people who do not have the disease will have a test score confirming that).[6] However, a more 2010 study estimated the sensitivity as only between 45%-71%, but with 100% specificity.[7]  This means that the test is very accurate at telling people who don’t have Cushing’s that they don’t have it, but not so good at identifying the people who really do have Cushing’s.  The authors that have analyzed these studies advise that patients use the UFC test together with other tests to confirm the diagnosis, but not as the initial screening test.[8]  

Other common tests that may be used to diagnose Cushing’s syndrome are: 1) the midnight plasma cortisol and late-night salivary cortisol measurements, and 2) the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test (LDDST).  The first test measures the amount of cortisol levels in the blood and saliva at night.  For most people, their cortisol levels drop at night, but people with Cushing’s syndrome have cortisol levels that remain high all night. In the LDDST, dexamethasone is given to stop the production of ACTH.  Since ACTH produces cortisol, people who don’t have Cushing’s syndrome will get lower cortisol levels in the blood and urine. If after giving dexamethasone, the person’s cortisol levels remain high, then they are diagnosed with Cushing’s.[9]

Even when these tests, alone or in combination, are used to diagnose Cushing’s, they don’t explain the cause. They also don’t distinguish between Cushing’s syndrome, and something called pseudo-Cushing state.

Pseudo-Cushing state

Some people have an abnormal amount of cortisol that is caused by something unrelated to Cushing’s syndrome such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, depression, pregnancy, and obesity. This is called pseudo-Cushing state.  Their high levels of cortisol and resulting Cushing-like symptoms can be reversed by treating whatever disease is causing the abnormal cortisol levels. In their study, Dr. Giacomo Tirabassi and colleagues recommend using the desmopressin (DDAVP) test to differentiate between pseudo-Cushing state and Cushing’s.  The DDAVP test is especially helpful in people who, after being given dexamethasone to stop cortisol production, continue to have moderate levels of urinary free cortisol (UFC) and midnight serum cortisol.[10]

An additional test that is often used to determine if one has pseudo-Cushing state or Cushing’s syndrome is the dexamethasone-corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) test. Patients are injected with a hormone that causes cortisol to be produced while also being given another hormone to stop cortisol from being produced. This combination of hormones should make the patient have low cortisol levels, and this is what happens in people with pseudo-Cushing state.  People with Cushing’s syndrome, however, will still have high levels of cortisol after being given this combination of hormones.[11]

How can Cushing’s be treated?

Perhaps because Cushing’s is rare or under-diagnosed, few treatments are available. There are several medications that are typically the first line of treatment.  None of the medications can cure  Cushing’s, so they are usually taken until other treatments are given to cure Cushing’s, and only after that if the other treatment fails.

The most common treatment for Cushing’s disease is transsphenoidal surgery, which requires the surgeon to reach the pituitary gland through the nostril or upper lip and remove the tumor.  Radiation may also be used instead of surgery to shrink the tumor.  In patients whose Cushing’s is caused by ectopic ACTH syndrome, all cancerous cells need to be wiped out through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a variety of other methods, depending on the location of the tumor. Surgery is also recommended for adrenal tumors.  If Cushing’s syndrome is being caused by corticosteroid (steroid medications) usage, the treatment is to stop or lower your dosage.[12]

Medications to control Cushing’s (before treatment or if treatment fails)

According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, almost no new treatment options have been introduced in the last decade. Researchers and doctors have focused most of their efforts on improving existing treatments aimed at curing Cushing’s. Unfortunately, medications used to control Cushing’s prior to treatment and when treatment fails are not very effective.

Many of the medications approved by the FDA for Cushing’s syndrome and Cushing’s disease, such as pasireotide, metyrapone, and mitotane, have not been extensively studied.  The research presented to the FDA by the makers of these three drugs did not even make clear what an optimal dose was.[13] In another 2014 study, published in Clinical Epidemiology, researchers examined these three same drugs, along with ten others, and found that only pasireotide had moderate evidence to support its approval.  The other drugs, many of which are not FDA approved for Cushing’s patients, had little or no available evidence to show that they work.[14] They can be sold, however, because the FDA has approved them for other diseases.  Unfortunately, that means that neither the FDA nor anyone else has proven the drugs are safe or effective for Cushing patients.

Pasireotide, the one medication with moderate evidence supporting its approval, caused hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) in 75% of patients who participated in the main study for the medication’s approval for Cushing’s.  As a result of developing hyperglycemia, almost half (46%) of the participants had to go on blood-sugar lowering medications. The drug was approved by the FDA for Cushing’s anyway because of the lack of other effective treatments.

Other treatments used for Cushing’s have other risks.  Ketoconazole, believed to be the most commonly prescribed medications for Cushing’s syndrome, has a black box warning due to its effect on the liver that can lead to a liver transplant or death.  Other side effects include: headache, nausea, irregular periods, impotence, and decreased libido. Metyrapone can cause acne, hirsutism, and hypertension. Mitotane can cause neurological and gastrointestinal symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and diarrhea and can cause an abortion in pregnant women.[15]

So, what should you do if you suspect you have Cushing’s Syndrome?

Cushing’s syndrome is a serious disease that needs to be treated, but there are treatment options available for you if you are diagnosed with the disease. If the symptoms in this article sound familiar, it’s time for you to go see your doctor. Make an appointment with your general practitioner, and explain your symptoms to him or her.  You will most likely be referred to an endocrinologist, who will be able to better understand your symptoms and recommend an appropriate course of action.

All articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

  1. Nieman, Lynette K. Epidemiology and clinical manifestations of Cushing’s syndrome, 2014. UpToDate: Wolters Kluwer Health
  2. Cushing’s syndrome/ disease, 2013. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. http://www.aans.org/Patient Information/Conditions and Treatments/Cushings Disease.aspx
  3. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  4. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  5. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  6. Newell-Price, John, Peter Trainer, Michael Besser and Ashley Grossman. The diagnosis and differential diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome and pseudo-Cushing’s states, 1998. Endocrine Reviews: Endocrine Society
  7. Carroll, TB and JW Findling. The diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome, 2010. Reviews in Endocrinology and Metabolic Disorders: Springer
  8. Ifedayo, AO and AF Olufemi. Urinary free cortisol in the diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome: How useful?, 2013. Nigerian Journal of Clinical Practice: Medknow.
  9. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  10. Tirabassi, Giacomo, Emanuela Faloia, Roberta Papa, Giorgio Furlani, Marco Boscaro, and Giorgio Arnaldi. Use of the Desmopressin test in the differential diagnosis of pseudo-Cushing state from Cushing’s disease, 2013. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: Endocrine Society.
  11. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  12. Cushing’s syndrome, 2012. National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases: National Institutes of Health. http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/cushings/cushings.aspx#treatment
  13. Tirabassi, Giacomo, Emanuela Faloia, Roberta Papa, Giorgio Furlani, Marco Boscaro, and Giorgio Arnaldi. Use of the Desmopressin test in the differential diagnosis of pseudo-Cushing state from Cushing’s disease, 2013. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: Endocrine Society.
  14. Galdelha, Monica R. and Leonardo Vieira Neto. Efficacy of medical treatment in Cushing’s disease: a systematic review, 2014. Clinical Endocrinology: John Wiley & Sons.
  15. Adler, Gail. Cushing syndrome treatment & management, 2014. MedScape: WebMD.

Adapted from https://www.center4research.org/cushings-syndrome-frequent-misdiagnosis/?fbclid=IwAR1lfJPilmaTl1BhR-Esi69eU7Xjm3RlO4f8lmFBIviCtHHXmVoyRxOlJqE

ℹ️ Basics: Cushing’s Syndrome Overview

Cushing’s syndrome is a rare disorder that occurs when the body is exposed to too much cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the body and is also used in corticosteroid drugs. Cushing’s syndrome can occur either because cortisol is being overproduced by the body or from the use of drugs that contain cortisol (like  prednisone ).

Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands in response to the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) by the pituitary. One form of Cushing’s syndrome may be caused by an oversecretion of ACTH by the pituitary leading to an excess of cortisol.

Cortisol has several functions, including the regulation of inflammation and controlling how the body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Corticosteroids such as prednisone, which are often used to treat inflammatory conditions, mimic the effects of cortisol.

Stay tuned for more basic info…

🎤 4th Pituitary Update | Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Friday, October 8, 2021

7:45 am – 4:00 pm

OVERVIEW

This conference will present the newest approaches and techniques in the diagnosis and treatment of pituitary adenomas, including acromegaly and Cushing’s disease. Diagnosis and treatment will be covered from the interdisciplinary and interprofessional perspective of endocrinology, radiology, neuro-ophthalmology, neurosurgery, and radiation oncology. Didactic presentations will include case discussions. The conference format, although virtual will provide a significant opportunity for interaction with expert faculty. A simulcast of transsphenoidal surgery will occur throughout the conference with real-time discussion and case review of the progress on the day of surgery, post-op management, surveillance and follow-up care.

Participants will leave with up-to-date, practical information and written resources including: DDAVP stimulation protocol for Cushing’s disease localization, perioperative glucocorticoid and salt-water monitoring protocol, clinic note templates, laboratory testing panels, “Sick Day Rules” letter for patients with adrenal insufficiency.  These materials will have immediate clinical application and help streamline care of pituitary patients at the office and during hospitalizations.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES – CME

Upon completion of this conference, participants should be able to:

  • Evaluate a sellar mass to determine if it is a pituitary adenoma or other lesion
  • Identify the value and limits of MRI in evaluating a sellar mass
  • List the potential and limits of endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery for pituitary adenoma
  • Manage, medically, a patient following endonasal surgery
  • List the different types of radiation, including linear accelerator (IMRT, Cyberknife), gamma radiation, (Gamma Knife) and proton beam
  • Treat, medically, patients who have acromegaly and Cushing’s disease
  • Apply multidisciplinary, interprofessional and interdisciplinary approach in the management of pituitary disease

LEARNING OBJECTIVES – PATIENTS

  • Upon completion of this course patients, families and advocates will be able to:
  • Identify the latest advances in pituitary tumor treatment
  • Demonstrate familiarity with the terminology and technical aspects of pituitary tumor care
  • Demonstrate patient-active behavior in working with the healthcare team to make ongoing treatment decisions

WHO SHOULD ATTEND

This activity has been designed for endocrinologists, neurosurgeons, ophthalmologists, gynecologists, general radiologists, nurse practitioners, nurses, residents and fellows. Additionally, patients and their caregivers, family members, advocates and members of the public who may benefit from understanding current innovative approaches to pituitary tumor care are invited.

For additional information please contact Hyacen Putmon.

Register Now

💉 In Manchester? New Endocrinology Unit

Stockport, NHS FT, has opened a new specialist endocrinology investigation unit, making it one of only two clinics of its type in Greater Manchester. One of the main benefits is, it will ensure patients with potential endocrinology conditions are treated faster, with more accurate assessments carried out. The specialist unit will also allow patients to receive their diagnosis as outpatients, without the need for an inpatient stay.

Endocrinology is the study and management of hormone related disorders which are often complex, and include some rare conditions. If hormones become unbalanced, they can lead to various conditions known as endocrine disorders. These are the conditions which are diagnosed and treated by the clinic’s consultants. Some of the examples include thyroid problems, adrenal nodules, which may lead to Cushing’s syndrome with hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis; or pituitary nodules, which may lead to pituitary deficiency or cause blindness.

Some of these conditions are difficult to diagnose, and simple blood tests are not enough. In these cases, ‘dynamic tests’ are needed, which require significant expertise in how they are performed and how the results are interpreted. Previously these specialised tests required an inpatient stay, where patients would often have to wait for over few months.

Dr Daniela Aflorei, Consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology for Stockport FT, who runs the clinic, said “I am delighted we are now able to provide a specialist Endocrinology service at our hospital which can provide quicker and more convenient care for our patients.

“With these conditions, swift diagnosis is very important for effective treatment, so this is going to have real benefit for people’s lives. I’d like to thank the many members of staff who helped us set up the new clinic and made it possible.”

The clinic has reduced the typical waiting time significantly, due to the clinic being run by endocrinology specialists. Patients have the opportunity to meet the endocrinology specialist nurses, helping understand the reasons for the tests to be discussed, keeping them informed in all aspects of their treatment.

The specialist clinic is run on one day each week, and is expected to benefit around 300 patients a year.

From https://www.nationalhealthexecutive.com/articles/specialist-unit-improve-endocrinology-care

🦓 Day 30, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2021

Today is the final day of the Cushing’s Awareness Challenge and I wanted to leave you with this word of advice…

To that end, I’m saving some of what I know for future blog posts, maybe even another Cushing’s Awareness Challenge next year.  Possibly this has become a tradition.

I am amazed at how well this Challenge went this year, giving that we’re all Cushies who are dealing with so much.   I hope that some folks outside the Cushing’s community read these posts and learned a little more about us and what we go through.

So, tomorrow, I’ll go back to posting the regular Cushing’s stuff on this blog – after all, it does have Cushing’s in its name!

I am trying to get away from always reading, writing, breathing Cushing’s, and trying to celebrate the good things in my life, not just the testing, the surgery, the endless doctors.

If you’re interested, I have other blogs about traveling, friends, fun stuff and trying to live a good life, finally.  Those are listed in the right sidebar of this blog, past the Categories and before the Tags.

Meanwhile…

Time-for-me

Choose wisely…

🦓 Day 29, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2021

People sometimes ask me how I found out I had Cushing’s Disease.  Theoretically, it was easy.  In practice, it was very difficult.

In 1983 I came across a little article in the Ladies Home Journal which said: “If you have these symptoms…”

I found the row with my symptoms and the answer read “…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”.

After that article, I started reading everything I could on Cushing’s, I bought books that mentioned Cushing’s. I asked and asked my doctors for many years and all of them said that I couldn’t have it.  It was too rare.  I was rejected each time.

Due to all my reading at the library, I was sure I had Cushing’s but no one would believe me. My doctors would say that Cushing’s Disease is too rare, that I was making this up and that I couldn’t have it.

In med school, student doctors are told “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras“.

According to Wikipedia: “Zebra is a medical slang term for a surprising diagnosis. Although rare diseases are, in general, surprising when they are encountered, other diseases can be surprising in a particular person and time, and so “zebra” is the broader concept.

The term derives from the aphorism “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra”, which was coined in a slightly modified form in the late 1940s by Dr. Theodore Woodward, a former professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.  Since horses are the most commonly encountered hoofed animal and zebras are very rare, logically you could confidently guess that the animal making the hoofbeats is probably a horse. By 1960, the aphorism was widely known in medical circles.”

So, doctors typically go for the easily diagnosed, common diseases.  Just because something is rare doesn’t mean that no one gets it.  We shouldn’t be dismissed because we’re too hard to diagnose.

When I was finally diagnosed in 1987, 4 years later, it was only because I started bleeding under the skin. My husband made circles around the outside perimeter each hour with a marker so my leg looked like a cut log with rings.

When I went to my Internist the next day he was shocked at the size of the rings. He now thought I had a blood disorder so he sent me to a Hematologist/Oncologist.

Fortunately, that new doctor ran a twenty-four-hour urine test and really looked at me and listened to me.  Both he and his partner recognized that I had Cushing’s but, of course, couldn’t do anything further with me.  They packed me off to an endo where the process started again.

My final diagnosis was in October 1987.  Quite a long time to simply  “…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”.

Looking back, I can see Cushing’s symptoms much earlier than 1983.  But, that ‘s for a different post.

⁉️ Myth: “Vitamins and Natural Remedies can cure/heal Cushing’s”

More from Dr. Karen Thames:

Myth: “Vitamins and Natural Remedies can cure/heal Cushing’s”

myth-busted

Fact: Do you know how many people have told me that if I just “juice”, I will be cured from Cushing’s or Adrenal Insufficiency?! I appreciate the sentiment, but the sad reality is that no amount of juicing and no vitamin will cure Cushing’s. Some Cushing’s patients do take vitamins, some do eat raw food or paleo diets, and some even juice. However, this is just a lifestyle choice and not an attempt to cure Cushing’s. I must admit that when you have such a dreadful disease, you do sometimes take desperate measures to heal yourself. Perhaps, doing acupuncture or some other form of natural healing technique seems attractive at times. Take it from a person who has had acupuncture, seen many natural doctors, juiced, took vitamins, ate a raw food diet, and yes, I EVEN did a series of colonics! If you have ever had colonics, you know that it brings new meaning to the phrase, “no pain, no gain!”

Seriously, this is all before I knew I had Cushing’s. I watched as every person who administered the different kinds of treatment scratched their heads as I continued to gain weight, eventually at a rate of 5 pounds per week! They couldn’t believe that I was actually still gaining weight. Their natural and not surprising response, of course, was to project blame onto me. “Karen, there is NO way you are following protocol! You MUST be lying on your food log!” What we all didn’t realize is that I was suffering from a life-threatening illness called Cushing’s Disease that caused morbid obesity in me and that none of those “remedies” would EVER work!

Now, I have already been in Twitter wars over this topic. Someone tried to tell me that a raw food diet will “cure Cushing’s” and then she told me that I am “ignorant and in denial”! She proceeded to tell me that her daughter, though she had surgery to treat Cushing’s, was REALLY cured because of changing her diet. She also told me that the daughter, who had her Adrenal Glands removed, didn’t need steroids. Listen folks, this is VERY dangerous! I have no adrenal glands and I NEED steroids! Cortisol is life sustaining and you will die without it! I fully expect that someone will argue this point until the cows come home. It doesn’t matter. It won’t change the facts. Cushing’s is caused by excess cortisol in the body. The ONLY treatment is to target the source of the excess cortisol (i.e.brain tumor, adrenal tumor, ectopic tumor, or prolonged steroid use for another disease). Targeting the source is the first line of treatment. Cushing’s Syndrome/Disease will lead to death if not treated properly! #BattlegroundDiagnosis

Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. Please seek the advice of a medical professional if you have questions or need further assistance.

If you want to follow our documentary, please go to http://www.Facebook.com/Hug.A.Cushie

 

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🦓 Day 26, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2021

So often during the diagnosis phase of Cushing’s I felt lost like this picture – I was walking alone to an unknown place with an unknown future.

My diagnosis was pre-Internet which meant that any information had to be gotten from libraries, bookstores, magazines…or doctors.  In 1983 to 1986 I knew something was terribly wrong but there was no backup from doctors, family or friends.  My first hope was from a magazine (see Day Six)

After I got that first glimmer of hope, it was off to the library to try to understand medical texts.  I would pick out words I did understand – and it was more words each trip.  I made Xerox copies of my findings to read at home and try to digest. (I still have all those old pages!)

All my research led me to Cushing’s.

Unfortunately, the research didn’t lead me to doctors who could help for several years.  That contributed greatly to the loneliness.  If a doctor says you’re not sick, friends and family are going to believe the doctor, not you.  After all, he’s the one trained to know what’s wrong or find out.

I was so grateful when I finally got into a clinical trial at NIH and was so nice not to be alone with this mystery illness.  I was also surprised to learn, awful as I felt, there were Cushies much worse off than I was.

I am so glad that the Internet is here now helping us all know that we’re not alone anymore.

We’re all in this together with help, support, research, just being there.  I love this quote from Catherine at http://wheniwasyou.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/wheniwasyou/

Mary, I am delighted to see you here. Cushings – because of the persistent central obesity caused by (we know now) the lack of growth hormone plus the hypothyroidism I was diagnosed with (but for which treatment was ineffective due to my lack of cortisol) – was one of the things I considered as an explanation for my symptoms. Your site was enormously educational and helpful to me in figuring out what might be happening to me. Those other patient testimonies I referred to? Many of them were the bios you posted. Thank you so much for commenting. I am so grateful for the support and encouragement. I really hope that my experiences will help other undiagnosed hypopituitary patients find their way to a diagnosis. I often used to dream that one day I’d get to say to others what was so often said to me: don’t give up, there will be an answer. I kept believing in myself because people I hadn’t even met believed in me. Now I am finally here and I do hope my story will help others to have faith in their own instincts.

Thanks again. Please do keep in touch.

Catherine

⁉️ Myth: “Each Person Requires the Same Dose of Steroid in Order to Survive…

Myth: “Each person requires the same dose of steroid in order to survive with Secondary or Primary Adrenal Insufficiency”

myth-busted

Fact: In simple terms, Adrenal Insufficiency occurs when the body does not have enough cortisol in it. You see, cortisol is life sustaining and we actually do need cortisol to survive. You have probably seen the commercials about “getting rid of extra belly fat” by lowering your cortisol. These advertisements make it hard for people to actually understand the importance of the function of cortisol.

After a Cushing’s patient has surgery, he/she goes from having very high levels of cortisol to no cortisol at all. For pituitary patients, the pituitary, in theory, should start working eventually again and cause the adrenal glands to produce enough cortisol. However, in many cases; the pituitary gland does not resume normal functioning and leaves a person adrenally insufficient. The first year after pit surgery is spent trying to get that hormone to regulate on its own normally again. For a patient who has had a Bilateral Adrenalectomy (BLA), where both adrenal glands are removed as a last resort to “cure” Cushing’s; his/her body will not produce cortisol at all for his/her life. This causes Primary Adrenal Insufficiency.

All Cushing’s patients spend time after surgery adjusting medications and weaning slowly from steroid (cortisol) to get the body to a maintenance dose, which is the dose that a “normal” body produces. This process can be a very long one. Once on maintenance, a patient’s job is not over. He/She has to learn what situations require even more cortisol. You see, cortisol is the stress hormone and also known as the Fight or Flight hormone. Its function is to help a person respond effectively to stress and cortisol helps the body compensate for both physical and emotional stress. So, when faced with a stressor, the body will produce 10X the baseline levels in order to compensate. When a person can not produce adequate amounts of cortisol to compensate, we call that Adrenal Insufficiency. If it gets to the point of an “Adrenal Crisis”, this means that the body can no longer deal and will go into shock unless introduced to extremely high levels of cortisol, usually administered through an emergency shot of steroid.

There are ways to help prevent a crisis, by taking more steroid than the maintenance dose during times of stress. This can be anything from going to a family function (good stress counts too) to fighting an infection or illness. Acute stressors such as getting into a car accident or sometimes even having a really bad fight require more cortisol as well.

It was once believed that everyone responded to every stressor in the exact same way. So, there are general guidelines about how much more cortisol to introduce to the body during certain stressors. For instance, during infection, a patient should take 2-3X the maintenance dose of steroid (cortisol). Also, even the maintenance dose was considered the same for everyone. Now a days, most doctors will say that 20 mg of Hydrocortisone (Steroid/Cortisol) is the appropriate maintenance dose for EVERYONE. Now, we know that neither is necessarily true. Although the required maintenance dose is about the same for everyone; some patients require less and some require more. I have friends who will go into an adrenal crisis if they take LESS than 30 mg of daily steroid. On the other hand, 30 mg may be way too much for some and those folks may even require LESS daily steroid, like 15 mg. Also, I want to stress (no pun intended) that different stressors affect different people differently. For some, for instance, an acute scare may not affect them. However, for others, receiving bad news or being in shock WILL put their bodies into crisis. That person must then figure out how much additional steroid is needed.

Each situation is different and each time may be different. Depending on the stressor, a person may need just a little more cortisol or a lot. Every person must, therefore, learn their own bodies when dealing with Adrenal Insufficiency. This is VERY important! I learned this the hard way. As a Clinical Psychologist; I assumed that my “coping skills” would be enough to prevent a stressor from putting me into crisis. That was FAR from the truth! I have learned that I can not necessarily prevent my body’s physiological response to stress. People often ask me, “BUT you are a psychologist! Shouldn’t you be able to deal with stress?!!!!” What they don’t realize is that my BODY is the one that has to do the job of compensating. Since my body can not produce cortisol at all, my job is to pay close attention to it so that I can take enough steroid to respond to any given situation. We all have to do that. We all have to learn our own bodies. This is vitally important and will save our lives!

To those we have lost in our community to Adrenal Insufficiency after treatment of Cushing’s, Rest in Peace my friends! Your legacies live on forever!

~ By Karen Ternier Thames