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Amy Schumer Turns the Spotlight on More Important Issues: Cushing Syndrome

Imagine exhaustion that makes it so you can’t find the energy to even slither out of your bed.  Add to it pain that has no cause that you can put your finger on.  You bruise easily, and your skin in some areas becomes thin and fragile.


 You can’t string thoughts together.  Your anxiety is through the roof, which see-saws with the slump of disabling depression.  This is how Fabiana described it.


Who’s Fabiana?  She is some human being, somewhere on planet earth, who is living with Cushing Disease.


Don’t know her, don’t care?  Okay, let’s talk about someone who’s name is well-known, then…


It's the physical changes to your appearance that hit you the hardest, as everyone has something to say about how you look.  People comment on the rounding of your face and how much weight you’ve gained. 


That’s what happened to Amy Schumer, well-known comedian, writer, and actress.  She has Cushing Syndrome.


Kudos to Schumer, who found a way to be grateful for all the negative comments about her appearance in the online world.  She feels that no matter how they were intended, it was the commentary that brought her attention to what was happening to her health.


Cushing Syndrome


Cushing Syndrome is the collection of symptoms that are caused by extremely high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone produced by your body. 


The syndrome has many symptoms in common with so many other health issues.  This makes it challenging to diagnose.


The list of Cushing symptoms from Johns Hopkins Medicine includes:

 (Google (n.d.) Retrieved 27 Feburary 2024

·      Upper body weight gain with thin arms and legs.

·      Thin, fragile, reddening skin that does not heal easily.

·      Bone and muscle weakness.

·      Severe fatigue.

·      High blood pressure.

·      High blood sugar.

·      Irritability, and/or anxiety, and/or depression.

·      Purple stretch marks around the abdomen


There are two significant symptoms in appearance that stand out with Cushing Syndrome.  One is rounding of the face, giving it a full “moon” appearance.  The other is the development of a fatty hump at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades.  It looks like the hump on a buffalo.


Different Causes of Cushing Syndrome


The causes of Cushing Syndrome can be either exogenous, from outside the body, or endogenous, from inside the body.


The endogenous type is what causes Cushing Disease.  It is generally found in the 20 to 50-year-old population, and women are three times more likely to have it than men.   Lucky us…


Endogenous Cushing Disease is thankfully rare.  Only 10-15 new cases are found per 1 million people. 


The disease is caused by tumors.  75% - 80% of the time, the tumor is on the pituitary gland.  The remainder of the time, the tumor is found on the adrenal glands.


These tumors cause the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol in the body.  This was what Fabiana was living with.


As was stated earlier, the exogenous type is caused by something from outside of the body, such as in Schumer’s case.  It accounts for 99% of diagnosed cases.


She had been treated medically with high doses of steroid—the steroid increased cortisol production, creating the cascade of symptoms that she has been experiencing.


Diagnosing Cushing Syndrome


Cushing Syndrome is diagnosed with a series of tests, including a 24-hour urinary free-cortisol test to determine the level of it in your body.  If your body shows high levels of cortisol in two or more tests a cause will need to be determined. 


The next step will be imaging tests, such as CT or MRI to determine if a tumor is present.  If that is the cause the typical first treatment is surgery to remove the tumor.


(Google (n.d.) Retrieved 28 Feburary 2024

If steroids are the cause of the syndrome, the first course of action stopping the use of steroids.


If a tumor is ruled out, as well as steroids, it is time to look at other issues.


Stress and Cushing Syndrome


Stress, you hear about it all the time.  Who isn’t stressed these days?


The problem isn’t so much that we have stress, it is that being stressed has become a constant state for many of us.  That means that our bodies are being subjected to the constant barrage of cortisol.


Cortisol is meant to flow, as needed, to protect you from danger.   It ramps up to get you to take action to protect yourself.   It is then, once the danger has passed, supposed to ebb, allowing your body to go into a resting, healing state.


Humans have become adept at creating things to stress over.  Our brains do not have the ability to tell the difference between something that is happening and something we are just thinking about.


If the something you are thinking about is stressful, your body pumps out the cortisol to save you from it.  It doesn’t matter ,that at age 50 you’re still thinking of, and hating-on, the jerk who pulled an embarrassing prank on you in 8th grade.


Constantly subjecting your body to cortisol can create all the symptoms of Cushing Syndrome and so much more.  It affects the heart, digestive system, and immunity.  Unchecked Cushing Syndrome can lead to osteoporosis (reduced bone mass), hypertension (high blood pressure) and Type 2 Diabetes.


It is time we all learn how to turn down the volume on the stress pump and let our bodies heal.


At Henry Ford Health, Elizabeth Swenor, D.O. shares a list of healthy changes to turn your over-stressed body around.  They include:


1.    Eating a healthy diet.

2.    Supplement where needed.

3.    Use calming breath exercises.

4.    Reduce caffeine.

5.    Get some sleep.

6.    Add exercise to your daily routine.

7.    Use a journal to get the stressful thoughts out of your head.

8.    Find hobbies that you enjoy.

9.    Get outside into nature.

10.Don’t let fear run your show.


For more information click on: “Stressed? 10 Ways to Lower Your Cortisol Levels”.


I will suggest not trying to turn your entire life around all at once.  It tends to be stressful.  Start with small, easy changes over time.


Amy Schumer is One of the Lucky Ones


(Google (n.d.) 28 Feburary 2024

Those who are diagnosed with Endogenous Cushing Disease have a long road to go. , Hopefully, the treatments available will resolve the disease, allowing them to return to a normal life eventually.


There are some that will be living with Cushing Syndrome for the rest of their lives due to irreversible changes.  Fabiana, from the beginning of the article, is one of those people.


Schumer has expressed that she has been lucky with this health scare.  Her cause is something that is in the process of being corrected. 


Through a stepping-down process, she is being taken off the steroids that caused the problem.  The rest of the turn-around can be accomplished with lifestyle choices that support good health.


Because it was caught early, there is little likelihood of serious on-going health issues. 


Thank goodness that Schumer has used her fame to shine the light on a serious medical issue that needs more attention.


Tune in to your health.  Many things can be turned around when caught early.


Prevention is important too.  Look into reducing stress and changing how you handle it.  Give your body what it needs to recover from unavoidable stressful circumstances. 


Feel free to share your health experiences and what is working for you in the comments.  You don’t know who you might help to avoid health problems in their future by being open about yours.


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