The Elusive Adrenaline in a Cushing’s Enigma

January 14, 2024by Dr. S. F. Czar0


Case Study: 

Patient: John, a 58-year-old retired engineer struggling with fatigue, muscle weakness, and unexplained weight gain for the past two years.

Presenting Symptoms:

  • Persistent fatigue, interfering with daily activities and social life.
  • Gradual weight gain despite unchanged diet and exercise routine.
  • Muscle weakness, particularly in the arms and legs, makes even simple tasks challenging.
  • Frequent episodes of dizziness and lightheadedness, especially upon standing.
  • Anxiety and irritability, are often triggered by minor stressors.
  • Recent development of purple stretch marks on the abdomen and upper arms.

Medical History:

  • No previous diagnoses of chronic conditions or major illnesses.
  • Family history of hypertension and diabetes.
  • Self-reported high levels of stress due to financial difficulties and recent retirement.

Physical Examination:

  • Moon-shaped face (“Cushing’s facies”) with thin extremities.
  • Abdominal striae (stretch marks) indicative of Cushing’s syndrome.
  • Slightly elevated blood pressure.
  • No noticeable thyroid enlargement or other visible abnormalities.

Laboratory Tests:

  • Baseline cortisol: Significantly elevated, confirming hypercortisolism.
  • Late-night salivary cortisol: Positive, further supporting Cushing’s syndrome diagnosis.
  • ACTH: Slightly elevated, suggestive of pituitary involvement.
  • Free T4 and TSH: Within the normal range, ruling out thyroid dysfunction.
  • Electrolytes and blood sugar: Mild hypoglycemia on fasting blood sugar test.
  • Adrenaline levels: Significantly below normal range.

Diagnosis: Cushing’s disease (pituitary ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome) with possible contribution of adrenaline dysregulation.

Treatment Plan:

  • Initial focus on stress management techniques to help mitigate the potential impact of stress on cortisol and adrenaline levels.
  • Further investigations with pituitary magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ACTH stimulation test to confirm the location and nature of the suspected tumor in the pituitary gland.
  • Consideration of surgical removal of the pituitary tumor (transsphenoidal surgery) as the primary treatment modality.
  • Post-surgical monitoring of cortisol and ACTH levels to assess treatment success and potentially initiate medication to suppress remaining cortisol production if necessary.
  • Nutritional counseling to manage weight gain and blood sugar fluctuations.
  • Regular exercise program to improve muscle strength, energy levels, and overall well-being.
  • Continued monitoring of adrenaline levels and potential consideration of low-dose replacement therapy, carefully balancing potential benefits with risks, only after ensuring optimal cortisol control.


John’s case exemplifies the complex interplay between stress, cortisol, and adrenaline in Cushing’s syndrome. While his elevated cortisol levels point to the disorder, the low adrenaline levels add another layer of intrigue. This atypical presentation highlights the importance of considering adrenal function beyond just cortisol in the diagnosis and management of Cushing’s syndrome. By addressing both the root cause of hypercortisolism and the potential contribution of stress and adrenaline dysregulation, John can reclaim his energy, manage his weight, and regain control over his well-being.

Note: This case study is for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis.

When Ghrelin Gets Silenced by Cortisol Excess

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2023. All rights reserved.