Curing Cushing's disease

Cushing's disease hits in the prime of a person’s life and if left untreated can make young, active women fatigued, overweight and depressed.

While it's often misdiagnosed, there is a cure if caught in time.

Chondra Hungerford could clean and jerk 200 pounds and bench press 185, but in a matter of months she went from a five foot six inch, 120 pound muscle machine to 176 pounds.

"I was trapped in this body of a monster and I was horrified," explains a Cushing disease patient Chondra Hungerford.

She was diagnosed with hypo-thyroidism, was told she was allergic to her own hair follicles, and should be treated for mental problems.

"I didn't know what I was doing anymore," says Hungerford.

Tests revealed her testosterone level was 77; it should have been 40. Her cortisol level was over 1,400; normal is 30.

She started researching and found Doctor U, who immediately tested her for Cushing's disease. Cushing’s disease is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland.

"The life expectancy is very low,” explains Dr. Hoi Sang U, MD, a Neurological Surgeon at UC San Diego. “If you can correct it, however, your life completely turns around."

Doctor U says several of his patients have been referred to him from psych wards, and finding the tumor can be difficult.

"Some of these patients could have full blown symptoms and appearance of Cushing's disease, and yet when you do a MRI scan, you do not see a tumor," says Dr. U.

Doctor U pinpointed Chondra's tumor. He went through Chondra's nose, to the base of the skull where the pituitary gland sits and removed the tumor.

Four months later and 40 pounds lighter, Chondra is back at the gym, working to regain her strength and her life.

After surgery, Chondra did go through cortisol withdrawal because Cushing's disease made her levels so high.

Symptoms for Cushing's include weight gain, acne or skin infections, purple marks on the skin of the abdomen, thighs and breasts. Patients also experience excessive hair growth on their face, neck, chest, stomach and thighs.

Curing Cushing's disease
REPORT #1949

BACKGROUND: Cushing's disease is a form of Cushing's syndrome that is caused by the pituitary gland producing too much adrenocorticotropic hormone, abbreviated to ACTH. ACTH causes the production and release of the stress hormone cortisol; so when the pituitary gland makes too much ACTH, then too much cortisol is also being produced in the body. Cortisol is helpful in stressful situations, but too much can lead to serious issues. If the problem is left untreated it can lead to things such as infections, psychosis, diabetes, kidney stones, high blood pressure, and eventually death. (Source:

SYMPTOMS: While symptoms of Cushing's disease can often be mistaken for other issues, here are some signs to look out for:
* Obesity in the upper body with thin arms and legs
* Bone pain or tenderness
* Irregular or stopped menstrual cycles in women
* Impotence in men
* Behavioral changes, depression, or anxiety (Source:

TREATMENT: In order to treat Cushing's disease, the tumor on the pituitary gland that is causing the excess production of ACTH, and in turn excess cortisol, needs to be removed. This can be done by either surgically removing the tumor from the pituitary gland or using radiation on it. Once the tumor is gone, hopefully the pituitary gland will begin to function normally again. However, the tumor can grow back or be unresponsive to radiation and surgery; in this circumstance medications that stop the production of cortisol can be used. In severe cases where other treatments have not been able to help the patient, doctors may remove the adrenal glands in order to prevent the production of high amounts of cortisol. (Source:

For More Information, Contact:

Jackie Carr, Media Relations
University of California San Diego

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