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Cushings Syndrome

Overview :

The adrenals are two glands, each of which is perched on the upper part of the two kidneys. The outer part of the gland is known as the cortex; the inner part is known as the medulla. Each of these parts of the adrenal gland is responsible for producing different types of hormones. Regulation of hormone production and release from the adrenal cortex involves the pituitary gland, a small gland located at the base of the brain. After the hypothalamus (the part of the brain containing secretions important to metabolic activities) sends "releasing hormones" to the pituitary gland, the pituitary secretes a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The ACTH then travels through the bloodstream to the adrenal cortex, where it encourages the production and release of cortisol (sometimes called the "stress" hormone) and other adrenocortical hormones.

Cortisol, a very potent glucocorticoid—a group of adrenocortical hormones that protects the body from stress and affect protein and carbohydrate metabolism—is involved in regulating the functioning of nearly every type of organ and tissue in the body, and is considered to be one of the few hormones absolutely necessary for life. Cortisol is involved in:

  • complex processing and utilization of many nutrients, including sugars (carbohydrates), fats, and proteins
  • normal functioning of the circulatory system and the heart
  • functioning of muscles
  • normal kidney function
  • production of blood cells
  • normal processes involved in maintaining the skeletal system
  • proper functioning of the brain and nerves
  • normal responses of the immune system

Cushing's syndrome, also called hypercortisolism, has an adverse effect on all of the processes described above. The syndrome occurs in approximately 10 to 15 out of every one million people per year, usually striking adults between the ages of 20 and 50.

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