What Causes High Levels Of Cortisol
Experiencing abnormally high levels of cortisol for an extended period of time is usually considered Cushings syndrome, which is a rare condition. Causes of higher-than-normal cortisol levels and Cushings syndrome include:
- Taking large amounts of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, prednisolone or dexamethasone, for treatment of other conditions.
- Tumors that produce adrenocorticotropic hormone . These are usually found in your pituitary gland. More rarely, neuroendocrine tumors in other parts of your body such as your lungs can cause high cortisol levels.
- Adrenal gland tumors or excessive growth of adrenal tissue , which cause excess production of cortisol.
What are the symptoms of high cortisol levels?
The symptoms of Cushings syndrome depend on how elevated your cortisol levels are. Common signs and symptoms of higher-than-normal cortisol levels include:
- Weight gain, especially in your face and abdomen.
- Fatty deposits between your shoulder blades.
- Wide, purple stretch marks on your abdomen .
- Muscle weakness in your upper arms and thighs.
- High blood sugar, which often turns into Type 2 diabetes.
- Weak bones and fractures.
Phosphatidylserine As A Cortisol Supplement
The supplement phosphatidylserine has a positive effect on your mind and memory and can help reduce cortisol production.
One small study found that phosphatidylserine supplements of 600 mg a day can lower cortisol levels after intensive exercising. This can be an effective way for athletes or people who enjoy regular intensive exercise to avoid the effects of too much cortisol.
How Can I Reduce My Risk Of Or Prevent Cushing Syndrome
You always need cortisol in your body. You need it to function. It manages your respiration, turns your food into energy, regulates your blood sugar, helps you cope with stress and more. Cortisol isnt your bodys enemy, but too much of it can be. However, you cant live without cortisol.
Have your healthcare provider monitor your cortisol levels closely if youre on glucocorticoids or steroids. Unfortunately, theres no way to prevent a tumor that causes Cushing syndrome .
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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.
What Causes A Fatty Hump On The Face
Too much cortisol can cause some of the hallmark signs of Cushing syndrome a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on your skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, type 2 diabetes. Treatments for Cushing syndrome can return your body’s cortisol levels …
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How To Reduce Cortisol Naturally
Dr. Lin stresses that a big-picture approach is key to maintaining healthy cortisol levels and feeling less stressed. These go-to strategies are good for the body and the mind.
Exercise benefits health from head to toe. So its no surprise that it helps with stress relief, too, possibly by reducing cortisol levels. Studies show, for instance, that exercise can bring down cortisol levels in the elderly and in people with major depressive disorder.
Almost nothing beats a good nights sleep. When youre not sleeping well, you tend to be more anxious, irritable and stressed, Dr. Lin says. Like exercise, sleep is important for health in all sorts of ways including managing stress and keeping cortisol in check.
Sleep deprivation may increase cortisol levels. The increased cortisol can impair memory, contribute to weight gain and even accelerate the aging process. In other words: Dont skimp on shut-eye.
Spending time in the great outdoors is a great way to lower cortisol and calm your brain. The practice of forest bathing essentially, hanging out in the woods and breathing the forest air can reduce cortisol levels and lower stress.
When it comes to de-stressing, cortisol is just one piece of the puzzle, Dr. Lin adds. No one food or pill can deliver you to blissful calm. But healthy choices can set your body up for low-stress success.
High Cortisol Levels Takeaway
High cortisol levels may have a debilitating effect on your health. But by taking steps to reduce your cortisol levels, you may promote adrenal health and reduce many of these issues or even reverse them.
If you suffer from high cortisol, here are a few things you can do to help alleviate the situation.
- Ask your healthcare provider about doing tests to determine the root cause.
- Consider making dietary changes, reducing stress, and doing some low-level or moderate exercise.
- Explore the use of natural supplements with your healthcare provider.
If you would like to know more about or need assistance with high cortisol levels, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free* no-obligation phone consultation at +1 571-1234 where we will privately discuss your symptoms and options. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by .
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What Happens During A Cortisol Test
A cortisol test often uses a sample of blood drawn at a lab. But the test may also be done on urine or saliva collected at home. Normally, cortisol levels vary during the day, so your provider may order more than one type of test to get more information about your cortisol levels.
For a blood test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
Blood samples are usually taken twice during the day–once in the morning when cortisol levels are at their highest, and again around 4 p.m., when levels are much lower.
For a cortisol urine test, your provider may ask you to collect all your urine during a 24-hour period. This is called a “24-hour urine sample test.” For this test, you’ll be given a special container and instructions for how to collect and store your urine sample. Your provider will tell you what time to start. The test usually includes the following steps:
In certain cases, a urine test for cortisol may be done on one sample of urine collected in the morning.
A cortisol saliva test is usually done at home with a kit to collect a saliva sample. Your provider will tell you what time to collect your sample. It’s often done at night before you go to bed when cortisol levels are normally lower.
Engage In Social Activities And Have Some Fun
Any healthy relationship or hobby leads to feelings of happiness and thus a reduction in stress levels. This, in turn, affects your cortisol levels as well.
Being with people allows you to talk, share jokes, and laugh. Laughing helps promote the release of endorphins. It also helps to suppress cortisol production.
Hobbies also count as social activities and stress-relievers. The simple act of gardening, for example, gives you the chance to not just interact with your neighbors but decreases your stress levels as well. Taking an art class, doing martial arts, or starting a collection are also ways to get out and connect with others as well.
Adopting a dog or cat could also help reduce cortisol levels. Petting them and looking after them is an enjoyable experience and gives you something to care for.
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Should I See A Doctor
If you think you might have high cortisol, its important to see a doctor for a blood test. High cortisol causes common signs and symptoms that can be caused by many other diseases, so its important to confirm whats causing your symptoms.
If youre experiencing symptoms that may be caused by high cortisol levels, your doctor may recommend the following tests:
- Cortisol urine and blood tests. These tests measure the levels of cortisol in your blood and urine. The blood test uses a sample of blood drawn from your vein. A test called the 24-hours urinary free cortisol excretion test is used to check your urine. This entails collecting urine over a 24-hour period. Blood and urine samples are then analyzed in a laboratory for cortisol levels.
- Cortisol saliva test. This test is used to check for Cushing syndrome. A sample of saliva collected at night is analyzed to see if your cortisol levels are high. Cortisol levels rise and fall throughout the day and drop significantly at night in people without Cushing syndrome. High cortisol levels at night would indicate you may have Cushing syndrome.
- Imaging tests. CT scans or an MRI may be used to obtain images of your pituitary gland and adrenal glands to check for tumors or other abnormalities.
Unmanaged high cortisol levels can have serious consequences on your health. Left untreated, high cortisol can your risk of serious health conditions, including:
- cardiovascular disease
Symptoms Of High Cortisol Levels
According to research done by the Genetics Learning Science Center, the long-term danger of having high cortisol is that it activates the fight-or-flight response, which temporarily shuts down normal reproductive, digestive and immune functions. The body targets these systems for shutdown because it doesnt need them for immediate survival.
Sensory nerve cells pass the perception of a threat, or stress, from the environment to the hypothalamus in the brain. This signals the pituitary and primary adrenal glands to produce more cortisol. If this cycle goes on for too long, someone becomes more susceptible to all sorts of illnesses, infections and hormonal problems.
Some clues that may signal youre living with high cortisol levels include:
- weight gain, especially around the abdomen/stomach
- a puffy, flushed face
- higher susceptibility to infections
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Cortisol And Stress: The Basics
Cortisol is one of several hormones the body produces naturally. Cortisol levels do go up when youre stressed. But it doesnt deserve its bad rap.
Cortisol supports overall health, Dr. Lin says. It helps us wake up, gives us energy during the day and lowers at night to help us sleep and rest.
The problem arises when chronic stress keeps cortisol levels high for the long haul. High cortisol levels over weeks or months can lead to inflammation and a host of mental and physical health problems, from anxiety to weight gain to heart disease.
What Are The Symptoms Of Cushings Syndrome
Signs and symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome vary. People who have very high levels of cortisol for a long time are likely to have clear signs of the disorder, including
- increased fat around the base of the neck
- a fatty hump between the shoulders
- wide purple stretch marks, mainly on the abdomen, breasts, hips, and under the arms
Children with Cushings syndrome tend to have obesity and grow more slowly than other children. Women may have excess hair on their face, neck, chest, abdomen, and thighs. Menstrual periods may become irregular or stop. Men may have decreased fertility with lowered interest in sex and may have erectile dysfunction.
Not everyone with Cushings syndrome has these symptoms, which can make it hard to detect.
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What Is A Dangerously Low Cortisol Level
Addisons disease can lead to a life-threatening condition known as acute adrenal crisis. This can occur when the body is further stressed by infection, injury or other types of trauma like surgery or dehydration. It can cause headache, weakness, high fever and low blood pressure and if not treated with medication, can lead to shock and sometimes death. Dangerously low cortisol levels would be low single digit readings or essentially no cortisol production.
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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Maintaining A Good Bedtime Routine
A good bedtime routine can be a useful tool for getting longer and higher-quality sleep. This may involve a combination of relaxing activities that help a person unwind, such as:
- bathing or showering
- reading a book or audiobook
People should get into the habit of turning off all screens and relaxing before heading to bed. For example, it may help to turn off phones and any other potential distractions.
Preparing For Your Appointment
- You’re likely to first see your primary care doctor. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a doctor who specializes in hormonal disorders . It’s a good idea to prepare for your appointment so that you can make the most of your time with your doctor. Here’s some information to help you get ready, and what
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What Are The Symptoms Of Cushing Syndrome
Cushing syndrome has some unique symptoms as well as some that could point towards a variety of other syndromes. Not everyone has the same symptoms. Possible characteristics include:
- Rapid weight gain in the face , abdomen, back of the neck and chest.
- A red, round face.
Other signs and symptoms of Cushing syndrome include:
- Purple stretch marks over the abdomen.
- Easy bruising on the arms and legs.
- General weakness and tiredness .
- Blurry vision and dizziness.
- Weak muscles and thinner arms and legs.
- Libido changes and erectile dysfunction.
- Stunted growth in children.
What Do High Cortisol Levels Mean
A high cortisol level can mean several things.
High cortisol may be referred to as Cushing syndrome. This condition results from your body making too much cortisol. .
Some common symptoms of Cushing syndrome include:
- fatty deposits in the midsection, face, or between the shoulders
- purple stretch marks
Several things can contribute to the development of high cortisol.
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What Are The Symptoms Of High Cortisol Levels
Regular and prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels can wreak havoc on your body. Over time this can cause Cushings syndrome. Some of the most common signs of high cortisol levels include:
- weight gain particularly around your stomach, upper back, and face
- bruising and slow wound healing
- difficulty concentrating
What Causes Low Levels Of Cortisol
Having lower-than-normal cortisol levels is considered adrenal insufficiency. There are two types of adrenal insufficiency: primary and secondary. The causes of adrenal insufficiency include:
- Primary adrenal insufficiency: Primary adrenal insufficiency is most commonly caused by an autoimmune reaction in which your immune system attacks healthy cells in your adrenal glands for no known reason. This is called Addisons disease. Your adrenal glands can also become damaged from an infection or blood loss to the tissues . All of these situations limit cortisol production.
- Secondary adrenal insufficiency: If you have an underactive pituitary gland or a pituitary tumor, it can limit ACTH production. ACTH signals your adrenal glands to make cortisol, so limited ACTH results in limited cortisol production.
You can also have lower-than-normal cortisol levels after stopping treatment with corticosteroid medications, especially if you stop taking them very quickly after a long period of use.
What are the symptoms of low cortisol levels?
Symptoms of lower-than-normal cortisol levels, or adrenal insufficiency, include:
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What Does Cortisol Do To My Body
Almost all tissues in your body have glucocorticoid receptors. Because of this, cortisol can affect nearly every organ system in your body, including:
- Integumentary system .
More specifically, cortisol affects your body in the following ways:
Optimum cortisol levels are necessary for life and for maintaining several bodily functions. If you have consistently high or low cortisol levels, it can have negative impacts on your overall health.
Medications To Control Cortisol Production
Your healthcare provider may also suggest the use of medication to modify the excessive production of cortisol. Those undergoing surgery may also be prescribed medications beforehand to improve their symptoms beforehand and also minimize any possible risks during the procedure. These medications may have side effects, however. These include headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, high blood pressure, and swelling. Some medications may have more serious side effects that include liver toxicity and neurological issues.
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Cushings Syndrome Causes And Risk Factors
You can get Cushing’s syndrome when thereâs too much cortisol in your body for too long.
These prescription steroids are used for conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or after an organ transplant. Theyâre powerful anti-inflammatory medications. Taking too much, for too long, can lead to Cushing’s syndrome.
A tumor in your pituitary gland, found at the base of the brain, or a tumor in the adrenal glands, can also prompt your body to make too much cortisol, which can lead to Cushingâs.
ACTH is a hormone that regulates cortisol. In rare cases, an ACTH-secreting tumor causes Cushingâs syndrome. This kind of tumor can form in an organ that doesnât naturally produce ACTH, but because of the tumor, it begins to make a lot of it. These tumors can be cancerous or noncancerous. Theyâre usually found in the lungs, pancreas, thyroid, or thymus gland.
It’s not usually a condition that’s passed along in families. In some rare cases, though, people have it because a problem in their genes makes them more likely to get tumors on their glands.