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Endocrine. 2014 Aug;46(3):370-86. doi: 10.1007/s12020-013-0112-y. Epub 2013 Nov 27.

Harmful effects of functional hypercortisolism: a working hypothesis.

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Division of Endocrinology, Department of Clinical and Molecular Sciences, Umberto I Hospital, Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy.


Functional hypercortisolism (FH) is caused by conditions able to chronically activate hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and usually occurs in cases of major depression, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, alcoholism, diabetes mellitus, simple obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, shift work, and end-stage renal disease. Most of these states belong to pseudo-Cushing disease, a condition which is difficult to distinguish from Cushing's syndrome and characterized not only by biochemical findings but also by objective ones that can be attributed to hypercortisolism (e.g., striae rubrae, central obesity, skin atrophy, easy bruising, etc.). This hormonal imbalance, although reversible and generally mild, could mediate some systemic complications, mainly but not only of a metabolic/cardiovascular nature, which are present in these states and are largely the same as those present in Cushing's syndrome. In this review we aim to discuss the evidence suggesting the emerging negative role for FH.

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