Cushing’s disease is an endocrine disorder characterized by excess secretion of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) by a pituitary adenoma (tumor of the pituitary gland). This leads to high levels of cortisol, a condition known as hypercortisolism.
Chronic hypercortisolism is associated with symptoms such as central obesity, buffalo hump, body bruising, muscle weakness, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and weak bones.
Additionally, patients can develop psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, and cognitive dysfunction, all of which contribute considerably to a lower health-related quality of life.
Depression and anxiety rates are particularly high in Cushing’s disease patients, with 54% of them experiencing major depression and 79% having anxiety.
Due to the significant impact of psychological factors in these patients, they may be susceptible to post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). But more information on this phenomenon in these patients is still needed.
To address this lack of data, a group of Chinese researchers conducted a prospective study to investigate the occurrence, correlated factors, and prognosis of PTSS in patients with Cushing’s disease.
A total of 49 patients newly diagnosed with Cushing’s disease who underwent transsphenoidal removal of the tumor as their first-line treatment were asked to participate in this study. Another group of 49 age- and sex-matched healthy individuals were included as controls.
PTSS was measured using the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R), depression/anxiety were measured using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale (HADS), and quality of life was measured using the 36-item short-form (SF-36). These parameters were measured before surgery, and then at six and 12 months after the procedure.
Before surgery, 15 patients (30.6%) had PTSS. These patients also had higher cortisol levels, worse levels of depression/anxiety, and worse quality of life scores than those without PTSS.
While most of the patients recovered after the operation, there were five (33.3%) for whom PTSS persisted for more than a year.
Additionally, one patient who had a recurrence of Cushing’s disease developed PTSS between six and 12 months after the first surgery.
PTSS severity showed consistent improvement after surgery, which was correlated with better depression/anxiety scores and psychological aspects of the SF-36. However, Cushing’s disease patients in remission still performed worse than healthy individuals concerning their physical and mental health.
Therefore, “patients with [Cushing’s disease] can develop PTSS, and they may persist for over a year even after successful surgery. Combined psychological intervention is advised for these patients,” the researchers concluded.