Cushing Syndrome In Children: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment,  And Care

Cushing Syndrome In Children: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment,  And Care

Image: Shutterstock


Cushing syndrome, also known as hypercortisolism, is a rare hormonal disorder that occurs due to the overproduction of cortisol by the adrenal glands located above the kidneys. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, helps the body respond to stress and is also responsible for maintaining blood sugar levels and blood pressure in the body (1).

Cushing syndrome is primarily characterized by excessive weight gain, decreased growth rate, and high blood sugar levels. The incidence of the rare disorder is two to five new cases per million people per year, of which only 10% of the new cases occur in children each year (2).

Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, complications, diagnoses, and treatments for Cushing syndrome in children.

Causes Of Cushing Syndrome In Children

There are two variants of Cushing syndrome based on the factors that cause it. It can be either exogenous, caused due to intake of medicines containing high levels of glucocorticoids, or endogenous, caused due to overproduction of cortisol inside the body, rather than external reasons.

Cushing syndrome is often caused by exogenous factors and rarely by endogenous factors (2). Glucocorticoids administered to treat asthma, allergies, or immune disorders are often the culprits.

The other causes of Cushing syndrome include (3)

  • Adrenal tumor
  • Endocrine disorders that the child might have inherited
  • Some kinds of cancer

Symptoms Of Cushing Syndrome In Children

The symptoms of Cushing syndrome can vary among children depending on the cortisol production rate in the body. Some of the common symptoms of Cushing syndrome include (3)

  • High blood pressure
  • Excess fat around the neck and on the face
  • Weak bones and muscles
  • Round face
  • Decreased growth rate
  • Thin legs and arms compared to other children of the same age
  • Darkening of the skin
  • High blood sugar levels

Complications Of Cushing Syndrome

If not diagnosed or treated on time, Cushing syndrome might give rise to certain medical conditions or complications, including (1) (4)

  • Osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones)
  • Infections
  • Emotional disturbances
  • Memory loss or difficulty concentrating
  • Problems with vision
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis Of Cushing Syndrome In Children

The initial symptoms of Cushing syndrome in children might include weight gain. However, the child’s height may not increase consistent with the weight gain (2). As the symptoms of Cushing syndrome may be similar to those of other health conditions, always seek a pediatrician for an accurate diagnosis.

The doctor may begin the diagnosis by enquiring about the child’s medical history and do a physical exam. Some of the diagnostic tests performed for Cushing syndrome include (1) (5)

  • Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) test: This test is performed to determine if the excess cortisol is being produced due to a tumor in the pituitary gland or an adrenal tumor.
  • Blood tests and 24-hour period urine tests: These tests are done to measure the cortisol levels in the body.
  • X-ray: An X-ray may be performed to monitor bone density and structure.
  • Dexamethasone suppression test: This test is performed to determine whether a tumor in the pituitary gland is producing excess adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH).
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI is done to obtain detailed pictures of the internal organs and muscles of the body.

Treatment For Cushing Syndrome In Children

The treatment options for Cushing syndrome in children may vary depending upon the amount of cortisol released in the body and the visible symptoms.  The common treatment options include (1) (3) (6)

  • Surgery to remove the pituitary tumor or adrenal tumor, if present.
  • Medicines to inhibit excess cortisol production.
  • Radiation therapy to treat the growth of pituitary tumors.

Caring For Your Child With Cushing Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome can affect your child’s growth and development, and as a result, hamper their quality of life (3). Early diagnosis and proper treatment can help them recover at a faster rate. But for some children, the treatment may continue for a longer period owing to other medical conditions. In such cases, frequent visits to the doctor and regular checkups can help manage cortisol levels in your child’s body and help decrease their problems.

Cushing’s syndrome in children is a rare medical health condition. The excess production of cortisol that characterizes the condition can be controlled by administering medicines that can bring down cortisol levels in the blood. In cases where a tumor causes the disorder, performing certain diagnostic tests and a minor surgery might be required. Generally, proper medical treatment helps improve the results for your child.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.

Recommended Articles

The following two tabs change content below.

Sanjana Bhattacharjee

Sanjana did her post graduation in Applied Microbiology from Vellore Institute of Technology, India. Her interest in science and health, combined with her passion to write made her convert from a scientist to a writer. She believes her role at MomJunction combines the best of both worlds as she writes health-based content based on scientific evidence. Sanjana is trained in classical... more