What are the symptoms of Cushing’s disease?

The symptoms of Cushing’s disease are varied and usually develop gradually so a diagnosis may not be clear for some time. Usually several symptoms are present at once.

Symptoms include:

  • Excessive and sudden (or at times more gradual) onset of weight gain around your trunk; your arms and legs may remain unchanged and can become quite thin compared to your body)
  • Fatty hump at top of spine/back
  • Weak muscles, especially in your legs
  • Your face tends to be rounder and redder than normal (a classic symptom of Cushing’s known as ‘moon face’) and you may have developed acne
  • Darkening of skin pigmentation
  • Your bones may have become weaker (an X-ray may show a fractured rib for instance), due to steroid-induced osteoporosis (thinning and brittleness of bones) and therefore you have an increased risk of fracture
  • Your blood pressure may be higher than normal (hypertension) and you could have developed diabetes mellitus (‘sugar diabetes’) and excess thirst
  • Some people may also notice a tendency to bruise easily and have deep red/purple stretch marks (striae) appearing on the abdomen, similar to those which occur during pregnancy but are more pronounced. Skin can become thin and fragile.
  • Some people may experience irregular periods or stop having them altogether
  • You may also experience excessive hair growth on parts of the body and usually the face in women. Men can experience decreased fertility and both men and women can feel a reduction, or absence of sex drive (libido)
  • You may be feeling generally unwell, and more susceptible to infections
  • Mood swings – such as being more irritable, feeling depressed or anxious. In some cases, psychological problems can be severe, even being diagnosed as a nervous breakdown
  • In children it may show itself by growth stopping and weight increasing

Cushing’s affects many parts of the body, both mentally and physically, and affects different people in different ways.

Because Cushing’s can progress slowly and gradually, it can go unrecognised for quite some time. Looking back, many patients realise that there were clues to the condition two or more years before they were referred to an endocrinologist. However, lack of Cushing’s knowledge, at the time meant they were unaware of the condition.