The Stress Monster

I really do believe in signs, and I’m starting to think that the turkey pacing outside my car when I went on my hellish trek to complete labwork last week was my own little beacon of darkness.

After a busy night filled with weight lifting, spin class and running errands to find triathalon-appropriate clothing and a couple bike accessories, I got home Wednesday to see the little red light on my phone blinking, indicating I had a voice mail.

It was the endocrinologist. She left a message for me at 7:30 indicating my cortisol levels (assessed on that damn pee test) were abnormal and she wanted to meet with me at 9:30 Thursday morning to discuss them and potentially run more tests.

So, I went. It appears, my friends, as if I have a problem. My 24-hour pee jug test results came in Wednesday night and showed higher than normal levels of cortisol (70 on a scale of 0-50).

I always knew I was above average!

That level indicates that I may have Cushing’s syndrome. I need at least one more test to confirm.

Cushing’s is a series of symptoms and has several different causes. Symptoms include:

  • weight gain/inability to lose weight
  • round “moon” face
  • fat “humps” on the upper back or collarbone
  • skin changes, including acne, the development of reddish stretch marks, fragile skin
  • increased irritability, anxiety
  • menstrual changes
  • facial hair growth in women
  • loss of sex drive
  • insulin resistance

Since I have some of these symptoms, but not the hallmark physical characteristics, I sense the endocrinologist is still doubtful of my diagnosis (and a bit perplexed), but she is running the additional tests necessary to determine what is going on. Although I was sorely disappointed in my first meeting with her, I definitely think that she is thorough. She also spends considerable time with her patients answering their questions and addressing their concerns.

The first test is a 2-day blood sample to determine whether my cortisol levels will still remain high if given a dose of dexamethasone. Dexamethasone, especially in a small, 1 mg dose, should decrease my cortisol levels, but in people with Cushing’s, it doesn’t. Additionally, she will test my ACTH levels to determine if it’s a problem with my pituitary or adrenal glands.

If this test still shows elevated cortisol levels, I will need additional labwork to determine why my cortisol levels are abnormally high. There are many reasons, including a small tumor or an adrenal gland disease. Cortisol levels are also found to be high in those who are obese, and those with extremely reduced calorie diets and excessive exercising. Although I am very committed to weight loss and fitness, I don’t believe my activity and dieting is severe enough to justify these results–especially since the 1,200 calorie diet started the day after the pee jug test.

So that’s where it’s at right now. I’ve now banned myself from reading too much into WebMD, since I’d rather just be patient and wait for the results instead of having anxiety over potential treatments that I may never even need.

In the meantime, although I’ve slacked a bit on the 1,200 calorie diet and have now had two days off of exercise (one planned, one not), tomorrow it’s back to business: low carbs, 3 light snacks and 3 light meals, the gym and 1200 calorie limits. Tomorrow, I will also update the nutrition page on this blog to detail this diet in regards to how many calories and carbs I consume at daily and some sample meal/snack plans.

If anyone has experiences they would like to share about increased cortisol levels, please do. I’m curious!

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2 responses to “The Stress Monster

  1. Wow – cushings? really? I’ve heard of this but don’t know much about it. Wishing you luck with the additional testing!

  2. Sending hugs your way! I know nothing about cortisol levels – hope it turns out to be nothing!

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