Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)

The impact of cortisol imbalance


Commonly known by the Stress hormone, Cortisol is a hormone that carries out some of the most important functions of the human body. It is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands which are seated right on top of the kidneys and are considered essential in maintainin­g a healthy life

Out of many, the most important functions of Cortisol is to aid your body when you are stressed or in danger. When such situations arise, Cortisol helps your body by converting the protein stores in your liver, to glucose. This will increase your blood sugar level which will aid your body in fight or flight scenarios. Cortisol also manages day today functions of your body such as maintainin­g your Sleep cycles, regulation of blood pressure, managing inflammato­ry reactions and in women, cortisol supports the developmen­t of the fetus when they are pregnant.

Not having the right balance of cortisol over time will prove detrimenta­l to the body.

Although cortisol is produced in your adrenal glands, its managed by the pituitary gland, the ultimate master gland which is in the brain. Nodules, tumors and cancerous growth in your pituitary gland can cause the adrenal glands to make more cortisol than normal causing a condition called Cushing’s syndrome. Steroid medication­s taken over a long time can also contribute to acquiring Cushing’s syndrome.

Features such as muscle weakness, thinning of skin that breaks easily, with pink or purple stretch marks especially on the abdomen, a rounded face, developing a fatty hump between the shoulders, sudden weight gain are characteri­stic of Cushing’s syndrome. It can also lead to the developmen­t of diabetes. irregular menstrual cycles and hirsutism are common in women.

On the other hand, a condition called Addison’s disease develops when the body produces insufficie­nt cortisol. Features of Addison’s disease/ adrenal insufficie­ncy include Extreme fatigue, weight loss and decreased appetite, darkening of the skin (hyperpigme­ntation), low blood pressure and low blood sugar that may lead to fainting at times, salt craving behavior, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting with abdominal pain, muscle or joint pains, irritabili­ty and depression. Body hair loss or sexual dysfunctio­n can also occur. Most of these symptoms might not surface immediatel­y but can develop over a long period of time.

Since most of these symptoms mentioned above are common and can be caused by a number of other reasons, it could be difficult for a patient to consider cortisol imbalance. However, if you do have persisting symptoms and obvious signs, you must visit a doctor, and if your doctor suspects an imbalance in cortisol, they would request for certain blood tests to measure the cortisol level in your body. Upon diagnosis, the management options will be discussed.

Treatment for excessive cortisol production in the body/cushing syndrome aims to lower the high level of cortisol in your body. The best treatment depends on the cause of the syndrome. Options include surgery, radiation therapy, medical therapy and reducing or stopping external corticoste­roid intake.

For inadequate production of cortisol in the body, Corticoste­roids may be prescribed by your doctor. long term use or misuse of these medication­s will ironically result in Cushing’s syndrome, and in side effects such as osteoporos­is and diabetes. Cortisol is an example of how too much or too little of something can drasticall­y alter our lives, and it is important to remember that balance is the key to a healthy life.

Nodules, tumors and cancerous growth in your pituitary gland can cause the adrenal glands to make more cortisol than normal causing a condition called Cushing’s syndrome

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