Many studies have found tentative links between Cushing’s syndrome and weight gain. However, some individuals may be unaware that this condition even exists. There can also be times when a misdiagnosis occurs; leading to less-than-effective approaches to treatment.
It is therefore a good idea to quickly review this illness before moving on to discuss the relationship between it and increased body mass.
What is Cushing's Syndrome?
Cushing’s syndrome causes the body to produce too much of a hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol is a chemical related to stress management and it is often released during high-pressure situations (such as those associated with fight or flight). When cortisol is produced at normal levels, it effectively controls autonomic functions such as:
- Blood pressure.
- Glucose concentrations within the bloodstream.
The main problem here is that an overabundance of cortisol can have negative metabolic effects. While this article will primarily focus upon weight gain in adults, there are nonetheless additional symptoms that are often used to detect the presence of Cushing’s syndrome. The three most common Cushing signs are:
- A pronounced fat “bump” between the shoulder blades on the upper back.
- A noticeably round face.
- The presence of purple or pink stretch marks, particularly around the midsection.
It is important to consult with a specialist if you exhibit these symptoms. You can therefore rule out other potential underlying conditions.
What Causes Cushing's Syndrome?
While heredity may play a factor, Cushing’s syndrome has been related to specific chemical substances known as cortisol-like glucocorticoids. These are often found in medications that are used to treat other conditions such as lupus, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. There can also be times when Cushing’s syndrome arises as a result of immunosuppressant medications that are taken after an organ transplant.
Other instances may cause Cushing’s syndrome to develop as a result of metabolic processes. For example, some types of tumors (such as pituitary and adrenal tumors) can cause the body to produce too much cortisol.
Either way, obtaining a proper diagnosis is critical. Doctors will often perform salivary and/or urine tests in order to detect elevated levels of cortisol. When combined with other analyses, it is normally quite easy to discover if Cushing’s syndrome is present. Subsequent treatments will thereafter involve the removal of tumors (if discovered) or the administration of non-glucocorticoid medication.
Why Does Cushing's Syndrome Cause Weight Gain in Some Individuals?
Is there a link between Cushing’s syndrome and weight gain? Scientists feel that the main reason involves elevated levels of cortisol and another substance known as leptin. Both of these cause the body to gain excess weight around the midsection, upper back and trunk. However, it is important to mention that this often causes a buildup of visceral fat (fat that begins to surround the internal organs) as opposed to cutaneous fat (fat deposits above the skin). As a higher body mass index makes it more difficult to remain physically active, the chances of being diagnosed as obese are also likely to increase.
Is it Possible to Remain Thin After Being Diagnosed with Cushing's Syndrome?
While weight gain is associated with up to 90 per cent of those who are diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome, there are also cases when weight loss may occur. The most common scenario involves the presence of a malignant tumor that can begin to interfere with other metabolic functions (such as the ability to absorb vitamins and nutrients). Two other causal factors have been linked to weight loss after being diagnosed with this condition:
- Anxiety and depression.
- Uncontrolled (or undiagnosed) diabetes.
As always, it is likely that future research will shed additional light on the link between Cushing’s syndrome and body mass index.
While only a relatively small portion of the population will be diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome annually, it is still crucial to speak with a professional if you recognise one or more of the symptoms mentioned above.
In the event that you are indeed diagnosed with this illness, there are still ways to maintain a healthy weight. One of these may involve the use of the Spatz3 adjustable gastric balloon. This will help to control food cravings and to lower your overall caloric intake. It is likewise prudent to speak with your primary care physician to learn more about Cushing’s syndrome and weight gain.