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What Are the Treatments for High Cortisol Levels?

Updated July 19, 2017

Cortisone, also known as the stress hormone, is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the adrenal cortex of the adrenal gland stimulated by the release of ATCH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) by the pituitary gland. At normal levels, cortisol helps to maintain and restore homeostasis to various body systems. Overproduction of cortisol (hypercortisolism) is known as Cushing's syndrome. Treatment of Cushing's syndrome varies according to cause and form of the condition.

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Causes of High Cortisol Levels

Increased cortisol levels result from treating patients with glucocorticoid drugs, high caffeine intake, or development of cancerous and benign tumors on pituitary and adrenal glands, stimulating high production of ACTH and cortisol.


Some symptoms of Cushing's syndrome include rapid weight gain in the face and trunk, easy bruising due to thinning skin, severe fatigue, muscle weakness, a fatty hump between shoulders (buffalo hump), mental instability, high blood pressure, high glucose, anxiety, and depression.

Glucocorticoid Drugs/Caffeine

High cortisol levels resulting from use of glucocorticoid hormones to treat other conditions is treated by gradually reducing the level of hormone treatments. High cortisol levels from high caffeine intake is treated by reducing caffeine usage. Cortisol-inhibiting drugs may also be administered to help regain normal cortisol levels.

Pituitary Adenomas

Pituitary adenomas are noncancerous tumors of the pituitary gland. Treatment for this condition is the surgical removal of the tumors (transsphenoidal adenomectomy) or radiation therapy.

Ectopic ATCH Syndrome

Ectopic ATCH Syndrome is characterized by benign or cancerous tumors outside the pituitary gland resulting in overproduction of ATCH. It often develops as a secondary condition to lung cancer. Treatment includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or cortisol-inhibiting drug therapy.

Adrenal Tumors

Benign and cancerous adrenal tumors result in an abnormality of the adrenal glands inducing an overproduction of ATCH. Treatment for this condition is the surgical removal of the adrenal glands.

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About the Author

Shayla Perkins

Shayla Perkins has a B.S. in biology and chemistry. She has worked in pharmaceutical research and development since 2001, and is currently working with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Perkins' writing experience includes protocols, technical reports, intermediate synopsis and co-editing of journal submissions.

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