What Are The Symptoms Of High Cortisol
Following are some of the symptoms of high cortisol levels
Abnormal Blood Sugar
Cortisol infuses glucose into the body in case of stressful conditions. However, an increased level of cortisol continuously produces glucose. This results in an increased level of glucose in the blood. A high level of cortisol also reduces the sensitivity of cells towards insulin leading to a further increase in glucose levels.
A high level of cortisol causes weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. This may probably be due to two reasons. First, the fat cells present in the abdominal area have a high number of cortisol receptors as compared to fat cells in other areas. Further, glucose does not reach the cells and the body gets exhausted due to lack of energy. This may lead to increased hunger and sugar cravings.
High levels of cortisol narrow down the arteries. This leads to increased blood pressure and increased risk of plaque build-up. This may also cause damage to arteries.
When the body is under stress and cortisol is released, the digestive functions come to a halt until the stress gets over. However, prolonged high levels of cortisol may have a negative effect on the digestive disorder.
Various other symptoms of high cortisol levels include muscle weakness, slow healing, irritability, headache, thinning skin, irritability, acne, poor concentration, and fatigue.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Cushings Syndrome
Cushings syndrome can be hard to diagnose. Symptoms such as fatigue and weight gain can have many different causes. Cushings syndrome may be mistaken for other conditions that have many of the same signs, such as polycystic ovary syndrome or metabolic syndrome. Your doctor will first want to rule out other conditions.
Diagnosis is based on your medical history, a physical exam, and lab tests. Your doctor may ask if you are taking glucocorticoids or have had injections and rule that out before ordering lab tests.
Doctors may use urine, saliva, or blood tests to diagnose Cushings syndrome. Sometimes doctors run a follow-up test to find out if excess cortisol is caused by Cushings syndrome or has a different cause.
No one test is perfect, so doctors usually do two of the following tests to confirm a diagnosis:
Start A Healthy Exercise Habit
Research shows that acute aerobic exercise reduces the cortisol stress response in the brain and helps improve cortisol levels. This is one of many scientific explanations for why exercise helps relieve stress and promotes overall health in the mind and body. Start a healthy habit of moving your body in a way that you enjoythrough dance, jogging, lifting, yoga, or some other practice. Still, be careful not to overdo it. Overly intense exercise without adequate nutrition and recovery time can actually result in elevated cortisol in the body.
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What Are The Negative Side Effects Of High Cortisol
Having the right balance of cortisol levels is essential for human health. So, it should come at no surprise that too much cortisol can lead to negative side effects.
“When placed in a stressful situation, our body responds by releasing hormones, including cortisol. As more cortisol is released, it raises blood sugar levels, which can lead to weight gain, mainly around the abdomen and face,” says Bonnie Balk, RD a registered dietitian and Health & Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics.
And there’s even more to it than that. “Although there are many studies suggesting the connection between stress levels and weight gain, the connection may be from another cause,” Balk adds. “As people experience stressful situations, they tend to turn to their ‘therapist,’ which is often cakes, cookies, or other sugar/salty/oily comfort food, which leads to weight gain. As abdominal fat seems to raise cortisol levels, it contributes to this unhealthy cycle.”
How Is Cushing Syndrome Diagnosed
A doctor may suspect Cushing syndrome if a person has the telltale signs, such as a rounded face, a pad of fatty tissue between the shoulders, thin skin with bruises and stretch marks, and poor growth.
In children, doctors might suspect Cushing syndrome when a child is gaining weight but not growing as expected.
The doctor will do a physical exam and ask if the child has been taking a corticosteroid medicine for a long time. In kids not taking a corticosteroid medicine, doctors might order tests. These can include:
- 24-hour urinary free-cortisol test: a urine test that collects urine for 24 hours to measure hormone levels
- a diurnal cortisol test: measuring cortisol in a blood or saliva sample
- a low-dose dexamethasone suppression test: doing a blood test to measure cortisol after the child takes a glucocorticoid
- a CRH stimulation test: doing repeated blood draws over several hours to measure cortisol levels after the child gets a shot of corticotropin-releasing hormone
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Hormone Therapy Can Help Treat Cortisol Imbalance
Cortisol imbalance is becoming a more prevalent diagnosis as more and more people struggle to balance busy professional, family, and social lives. Our lives show no signs of slowing downand until were able to manage stress in a healthy way, we will continue to struggle with this significant hormone imbalance on a grand scale. If youve tried the steps explored above without seeing a significant change in your symptoms, it may be time to seek help from a qualified expert in hormone health.
The practitioners at BodyLogicMD are certified experts in integrative medicine and are focused on helping patients like you achieve optimal wellness through a combination of nutrition, lifestyle changes, and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. When you partner with a BodyLogicMD practitioner, they perform a complete assessment to understand your symptoms, analyze your cortisol levels, and craft a treatment plan thats fully customized to your unique situation. Whether your cortisol levels are high or low, they can give you the treatment support you need to take back control of your wellbeing.
If youre struggling to figure out how to balance cortisol levels on your own, its time to consider a professional option. Theres no need to suffer with hormone imbalance. With modern holistic treatment, you can regain the health and vitality you once enjoyed, free from the symptoms of chronic stress.
Reduce Alcohol And Caffeine Use
While many adults use alcohol to wind down at the end of a long day or in social situations, alcohol has been found to significantly increase cortisol levels in both men and women, particularly those who drink heavily. Caffeine does the same, creating a temporary but dramatic increase in blood pressure and related symptoms of anxiety. If youre struggling with cortisol imbalance, steer clear of these substances and give your body the chance to recalibrate on its own.
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But Don’t Hit The Gym Too Often
By contrast, that same study from The Journal of Endocrinological Investigation showed that moderate- to high-intensity exercise provokes increases in circulating cortisol levels. In other words, when it comes to exercise, more may not be better. A separate 2012 study confirmed that long-term cortisol exposure was significantly higher in endurance athletes.
As clinical psychologist Candice Seti, PsyDa.k.a. The Weight Loss Therapistput it, “Skipping the second trip to the gym and taking it easy can also be good for reducing cortisol levels. that over-exercising can actually lead to an increase in the hormone. This, in turn, can lead to slower weight loss.”
What Happens When Cortisol Is High
Over the last 20 years, studies have increasingly revealed that moderate to high cortisol levels may lead to an array of health issues, such as :
- Chronic disease. Long-term increased cortisol may increase your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.
- Weight gain. Cortisol may increase appetite and signal the body to shift metabolism to store fat.
- Lack of energy/difficulty sleeping. It can interfere with sleep hormones which may impact sleep quality and length.
- Difficulty concentrating. Also referred to as brain fog, some people report trouble focusing and lack of mental clarity.
- Impaired immune system. Increased cortisol can hamper the immune system, making it more difficult to fight infections.
- Cushings syndrome. In rare cases, very high cortisol levels can lead to Cushings syndrome, a rare but serious disease.
Elevated cortisol levels can be caused from many underlying issues such as overactivity or cancer of the pituitary or adrenal glands, chronic stress, and medication side effects .
Further, existing chronic disease may lead to higher cortisol levels, causing a chicken or the egg type of scenario .
Therefore, its best to work with a qualified health professional to establish the root cause of your health issues. Along with this, you may want to introduce some effective lifestyle habits that may help you better manage your cortisol levels. Here are some recommendations:
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When Should I See My Healthcare Provider
See your healthcare provider if you have the following symptoms of Cushings syndrome:
Symptoms that affect females specifically include:
- New or excessive facial hair.
- A change in libido .
- A change in the menstrual cycle.
Symptoms that affect males and females include:
- Rapid weight gain in the face , abdomen, the back of the neck and chest.
- A red, round face.
- Purple stretch marks over the abdomen.
- Easy bruising on the arms and legs.
- General weakness and tiredness .
- Blurry vision and dizziness.
Fight Or Flight Response
Some physical effects of cortisol related to the fight or flight response include:
Triggering a release of glucose to supply immediate energy to your large muscles.
Inhibiting production and digestion so glucose will be available and not stored.
Narrowing the arteries so blood pumps harder and faster to the heart and large muscles.
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Who Is More Likely To Have Cushings Syndrome
Cushings syndrome most often affects adults, usually aged 30 to 50,1 but can also occur in children. Cushings syndrome affects about three times as many women as men.2 In people who have type 2 diabetes and blood glucose levels that stay too high over time, along with high blood pressure, Cushings syndrome may be the cause. People who take medicines called glucocorticoids, which are similar to cortisol, also can develop Cushings syndrome. This type of Cushings syndrome is called exogenous. More than 10 million Americans take glucocorticoids each year,3 but its not known how many of them develop Cushings syndrome.
Confirming A Cushing Diagnosis
Dexamethasone suppression/corticotropin-releasing hormone stimulation test : If screening tests show high ACTH/cortisol levels, we may use this blood test to confirm the diagnosis. We give you medications to lower or raise certain hormones. This helps us see if symptoms are from Cushing disease/syndrome or a condition such as depression, stress, kidney failure or alcoholism.
Inferior petrosal and cavernous sinus sampling: If tests indicate that high ACTH is causing Cushing, well find out if the problem is from your pituitary gland or some other part of your body . Well insert thin tubes called catheters into areas alongside your pituitary gland. Well monitor your ACTH levels during the test. If your pituitary gland is the source, well arrange for you to consult with a neurosurgeon. For ectopic Cushing syndrome, well work with other OHSU specialists for further treatment.
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S To Get Your Cortisol Levels Under Control & Turn Down The Stress
Do you find yourself overly stressed, tired and even notice weight gain despite not changing your diet or workout frequency? Your cortisol levels may be out of whack. More specifically, they may be too high.
Cortisol is often called the primary stress hormone because its one of the main hormones we release when were under any sort of pressure and our evolutionary-based fight or flight response kicks into gear. Although most think of cortisol as a bad thing such as contributing to acne, weight gain or high blood pressure theres actually a lot more to cortisol levels than just our stress response and its unwanted symptoms. We need it to live.
While producing cortisol is a necessity for life and helps keep us motivated, awake and responsive to our environment, maintaining abnormally high circulating cortisol levels can become dangerous and contribute to long-term problems. Long-term use of corticosteroids and chronic stress are two of the biggest contributors to high cortisol. Chronic, high cortisol production is tied to symptoms and ailments including weight gain, anxiety, sleep disorders, hormonal imbalances and fertility problems, in addition to many other problems.
The good news is there are many natural ways to get your cortisol levels in check. For instance, adaptogen herbs are known to lower cortisol, and thats just the tip of the iceberg. Read on for more ways to lower high cortisol levels naturally.
Tend To Your Spirituality
If you consider yourself spiritual, developing your faith can also help improve cortisol levels.
Studies show that adults who expressed spiritual faith experienced lower cortisol levels in the face of life stressors such as illness (
If you do not consider yourself spiritual, these benefits may also be available through meditation, developing a social support group, and performing acts of kindness .
For those with spiritual inclinations, developing faith and participating in prayer can help manage cortisol. Whether youre spiritual or not, performing acts of kindness can also improve your cortisol levels.
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Natural Ways To Lower Cortisol
In many cases, the brain and adrenal glands can regulate cortisol on their own. When stress has gone away, the body will stop making cortisol and the levels will return to normal.
However, people with chronic stress, certain medical conditions, or who take certain medications can have cortisol levels that are higher than usual. They may want to try some techniques for lowering cortisol, such as:
Treatment Of Cushings Syndrome
Treatment of Cushings syndrome depends on the underlying cause of excess cortisol but may perhaps include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or the use of cortisol-inhibiting drugs. If the cause is iatrogenic, from long-term use of glucocorticoid hormones to treat another disorder, the physician will gradually reduce the dose of the externally administered steroid to the lowest dose adequate for control of that disorder. Once control is established, the dose of glucocorticoid hormones may be given on alternate days to lessen side effects for the patient.
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How To Lower Cortisol Levels Its More Than Reducing Stress
Contrary to popular misconception, learning how to lower cortisol levels isnât solely about naturopathic remedies. For example, supplements like ashwagandha, prebiotics, probiotics, and magnesium are revered for their cortisol-regulating properties. While these substances may or may not work, your goal shouldnât be to keep your cortisol load low all the time.
The thing is, your body requires high cortisol concentrations at the right times and low cortisol levels at other times . This keeps yourself in circadian alignment such that you feel and function at your best.
Ahead, we explain how a healthy cortisol rhythm works so you have a better idea of when and how to lower your cortisol levels when you need to. Itâs all about making this hormone work for you instead of against you.
When To See A Doctor
If you are experiencing symptoms of Addisons disease or Cushings syndrome or otherwise suspect that your cortisol level is too high or too low, make an appointment with your primary care doctor and/or an endocrinologist for diagnosis.
The doctor can order tests to measure the level of cortisol in your urine, blood, or saliva. The urine test is often done over the course of a full 24 hours , since cortisol levels naturally vary throughout the day.
Depending on the results of the cortisol tests, your doctor might order further testing or imaging or start you on treatments to get your cortisol levels back to normal.
The Mayo Clinic. Chronic Stress Puts Your Health At Risk. July 8, 2021. Accessed January 5, 2022.
You and Your Hormones: An Education Resource from the Society for Endocrinology. Cortisol. Last reviewed January 2019. Accessed January 5, 2022.
Hormone Health Network . What Is Cortisol? Last updated November 2018. Accessed January 5, 2022.
Hormone Health Network . Cushing Syndrome. Last updated October 2019. Accessed January 5, 2022.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases . Cushing’s Syndrome. Last reviewed May 2018. Accessed January 5, 2022.
National Library of Medicine , MedlinePlus. Cortisol Test. Accessed January 5, 2022.
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Regular Excess Alcohol And High Caffeine Consumption
Drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis can cause cortisol levels to rise. One study involving over 3,600 men and women found that alcohol consumption increased cortisol secretion in the body. The increased cortisol levels happen because alcohol affects the HPA axis.
Caffeine also increases cortisol secretion in people at rest or people undergoing mental stress.
How To Lower Your Cortisol Levels And Reduce Stress
You may have heard of cortisol as a harmful stress hormone. But cortisol isnt always negative our bodies actually depend on the release of cortisol for several key functions. The problem is when high stress, and cortisol release, are chronic. Humans arent meant to live under chronically high levels of stress, and doing so can lead to serious health consequences.
Luckily, there are ways you can lower your cortisol levels and work on reducing stress. Here are 10 natural cortisol-reducing habits to start with.
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