How to Recognize Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease and PCOS

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by Brandy Moody |

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Diagnosing Cushing’s disease is a tough task, and I’m sure anyone who has gone through the diagnostic process can attest to that. Cushing’s can be cunning because its symptoms can appear as though they’re separate issues, rather than part of a bigger problem.

Unfortunately, many social media users are being misled about those symptoms. For instance, I’ve been seeing a lot of misinformation spread about symptoms of Cushing’s disease and the relatively common hormonal disorder polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

In PCOS, the ovaries produce an excess amount of androgens, or male sex hormones. Women may develop cysts on their ovaries, which can disrupt ovulation and result in infertility.

Cushing’s is characterized by excess cortisol. In Cushing’s disease, high cortisol levels are often caused by a pituitary adenoma, while Cushing’s syndrome may be caused by an adrenal tumor, an ectopic tumor, or overuse of steroids. The difference is the cause of excess cortisol. Both conditions result in the same symptoms.

I’ve seen content creators on TikTok and Instagram claim that many Cushing’s symptoms are caused by PCOS, while making no mention of Cushing’s. These social media claims suggest that PCOS is responsible for high cortisol levels, moon face (a rounded face that alters your appearance), and a buffalo hump (a fat pad on the base of your neck). Not true.

Worse, when Cushing’s patients try to correct this misinformation, the content creators sometimes delete the Cushing’s patient’s comments and block their accounts. This can ultimately mislead social media users who have these symptoms and delay their correct diagnoses.

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It’s true, however, that Cushing’s and PCOS do share some symptoms: weight gain, hirsutism, irregular periods, thinning hair, acne, reduced fertility, and insomnia. In PCOS alone, you will see polycystic ovaries and excess androgen.

Now, let’s look at Cushing’s disease symptoms: purple striae (or stretch marks), buffalo hump, moon face, random bruising, thin skin, insulin resistance, thinning hair or hair loss, inflammation, swollen limbs, water retention, weight gain (particularly in your stomach area), hirsutism, irregular menstrual cycles, acne, infertility, joint pain, body and muscle aches, insomnia, severe fatigue, high white blood cell count, irritability, mood swings, loss of emotional control, cognitive difficulties, high blood pressure, muscle weakness, low libido, headaches, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, osteoporosis, brittle hair, gray hair, and an electric, burning, or buzzing sensation all over the body.

Whew. Sorry, I know that was a lot. Now I hope you can see the severity of this disease and why it’s so important that correct information is spread. In one video I saw, the creator claimed that PCOS causes moon face and excess cortisol. Yes, PCOS can cause weight gain in the face, but this is not the same as moon face. The tip they suggested to help lower cortisol was to reduce screen time before bed.

I want to emphasize this: If you have a high amount of cortisol in your body, get checked for Cushing’s disease.

Almost by definition, Cushing’s disease is an excess amount of cortisol in your body. No amount of screen time reduction will minimize the amount of cortisol your body is overproducing. There is a difference between your body releasing excess cortisol during times of stress and your body chronically overproducing cortisol due to an underlying health condition.

It’s possible to have PCOS and Cushing’s disease at the same time. If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, please don’t assume it’s PCOS. Get checked for Cushing’s!

Note: Cushing’s Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cushing’s Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Cushing’s.


Jennifer avatar


Great article! I see so many patients that have been given the diagnosis of PCOS when in fact there is an underlying condition-I’ve found many actually had hypercortisolism! I applaud you for mission to spread the word-hopefully more clinicians will catch on and SCREEN!


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