Information and Solutions for Men and Women

How Does Cushing Disease Cause Hair Loss?

Cushing disease is caused by noncancerous tumors in the pituitary gland.

Cushing's syndrome is considered an adrenal hormone disorder. Its symptoms are caused by chronic excessive levels of hormones (cortisol and androgens) in the body. Affecting mainly adults between the ages of 20 and 50, risk factors for the syndrome include diabetes and obesity. Although both men and women can develop Cushing's syndrome, overt physical symptoms are more prevalent in women. Overall the condition is seen more often in women than in men, since most cases are caused by Cushing's disease (which is about five times more prevalent in females).32, 108-109

Symptoms of Cushing's syndrome include:108, 110

  • Abdominal stretch marks
  • Acne
  • Buffalo hump—a fatty hump on the lower back of the neck
  • Excess facial hair and other signs of masculinization in women
  • Glucose intolerance
  • Hypertension
  • Kidney stones
  • Male pattern balding in women
  • Mental disturbances
  • Menstrual problems
  • Moon facies (swollen, rounded faces)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor wound healing
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Redistribution of fat from the lower body to the torso

Most cases of Cushing's syndrome are caused by Cushing's disease—when a non-cancerous tumor in the pituitary gland produces too much adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) which in turn stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete excess hormones.109-110

Other conditions that lead to 30% of Cushing's syndrome cases include:109-110

Table 14: Non-Cushing's Disease Causes of Cushing's Syndrome

NON-CUSHING'S DISEASE CAUSES OF CUSHING'S SYNDROME

ADRENAL GLAND TUMORS
  • 4-5 times more prevalent in women
  • Directly release excess cortisol and androgens
  • Most are non-cancerous, but a few are adrenocortical carcinomas
ECTOPIC ACTH SYNDROME
  • Develops more frequently in men
  • Over 50% occurring in the lung; can occur in the ovaries in women
  • Tumors (mostly cancerous) that arise outside the pituitary gland but also produce excess ACTH
GLUCOCORTICOID STEROID MEDICATIONS
  • Frequently prescribed to treat asthma, arthritis, and lupus
  • Long term use can mimic effects of excess cortisol
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Temporal and crown hair loss pattern rather than the diffuse hair loss more common in women.
Pituitary adenoma.