What Are Symptoms of Too Much Cortisol in the Body?

Pair of female feet on a bathroom scale
A pair of female feet on a bathroom scale. (Image: Rostislav_Sedlacek/iStock/Getty Images)

A high level of cortisol in the body is a condition called hypercortisolism, or Cushing’s syndrome. Excessive use of cortisol or corticosteroid medication or the body’s overproduction of cortisol causes hypercortisolism. Symptoms occur when the cortisol levels are abnormally high for an extended period of time. As cortisol is an important hormone for the body’s energy utilization and storage, there are numerous symptoms that can be attributed to this disease.

Weight Gain

One of the most common symptoms of hypercortisolism is weight gain, reports the Mayo Clinic. The weight gain typically happens in the central upper body. Patients can have fat deposits on their shoulders, chest and upper back, which may be described as a "buffalo hump." The patient’s legs and arms will appear thin. Often the patient’s face will become round and turn slightly red. This type of facial change is termed a "moon face," according to "The New York Times" Health Guide.

Skin Symptoms

Hypercortisolism can cause various skin changes, according to MedlinePlus.com. People suffering from high levels of cortisol can develop acne and frequent skin infections. Purple lesions measuring at least half an inch wide can be found on the breasts, abdomen and thighs. The patient’s skin may appear thin and bruise easily. Patients may also start to increasingly grow facial and body hair.

Muscle and Bone Symptoms

High levels of cortisol also affect the muscles and bones, states "The New York Times" Health Guide. Patients may suffer from deep pain that seems to originate from the bone, weak muscles, and a chronic backache that worsens when the patient performs basic activities. The bones may also start to thin and become brittle. This can lead to a high risk for bone fractures, especially in the ribs and spine.

Gender-Specific Changes

Cushing’s syndrome can affect women and men in different ways, reports MedlinePlus.com. Women may develop excessive hair growth on the face, thorax and thighs. A normal menstrual cycle may become irregular or delayed or may even stop. Men will experience a decrease in fertility, libido and impotence. These symptoms are all reversible if the patient receives prompt medical care.

Neurological Symptoms

Patients with chronically high levels of cortisol may often develop neurological signs of the disease, as well as an elevation in blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. Neurological signs include depression, irritability and anxiety. Patients may also develop frequent headaches and chronic fatigue.

High Blood Pressure

Cushing’s syndrome can also cause high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Blood pressure that is consistently higher than 120 mmHg over 80 mmHg characterizes this condition. The weight gain associated with high levels of cortisol also causes hypertension.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES
Load comments
PARTNER & LICENSEE OF THE LIVESTRONG FOUNDATION

Copyright © 2019 Leaf Group Ltd. Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of the LIVESTRONG.COM Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Copyright Policy. The material appearing on LIVESTRONG.COM is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. LIVESTRONG is a registered trademark of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The LIVESTRONG Foundation and LIVESTRONG.COM do not endorse any of the products or services that are advertised on the web site. Moreover, we do not select every advertiser or advertisement that appears on the web site-many of the advertisements are served by third party advertising companies.