OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
As might be expected for a fundamental physiological process like metabolism, errors or malfunctions in metabolic processing lead to a pathophysiology or—if uncorrected—a disease state. Metabolic diseases are most commonly the result of malfunctioning proteins or enzymes that are critical to one or more metabolic pathways. Protein or enzyme malfunction can be the consequence of a genetic alteration or mutation. However, normally functioning proteins and enzymes can also have deleterious effects if their availability is not appropriately matched with metabolic need. For example, excessive production of the hormone cortisol gives rise to Cushing syndrome. Clinically, Cushing syndrome is characterized by rapid weight gain, especially in the trunk and face region, depression, and anxiety. It is worth mentioning that tumors of the pituitary that produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which subsequently stimulates the adrenal cortex to release excessive cortisol, produce similar effects. This indirect mechanism of cortisol overproduction is referred to as Cushing disease.
Patients with Cushing syndrome can exhibit high blood glucose levels and are at an increased risk of becoming obese. They also show slow growth, accumulation of fat between the shoulders, weak muscles, bone pain (because cortisol causes proteins to be broken down to make glucose via gluconeogenesis), and fatigue. Other symptoms include excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), capillary dilation, and thinning of the skin, which can lead to easy bruising. The treatments for Cushing syndrome are all focused on reducing excessive cortisol levels. Depending on the cause of the excess, treatment may be as simple as discontinuing the use of cortisol ointments. In cases of tumors, surgery is often used to remove the offending tumor. Where surgery is inappropriate, radiation therapy can be used to reduce the size of a tumor or ablate portions of the adrenal cortex. Finally, medications are available that can help to regulate the amounts of cortisol.
Insufficient cortisol production is equally problematic. Adrenal insufficiency, or Addison’s disease, is characterized by the reduced production of cortisol from the adrenal gland. It can result from malfunction of the adrenal glands—they do not produce enough cortisol—or it can be a consequence of decreased ACTH availability from the pituitary. Patients with Addison’s disease may have low blood pressure, paleness, extreme weakness, fatigue, slow or sluggish movements, lightheadedness, and salt cravings due to the loss of sodium and high blood potassium levels (hyperkalemia). Victims also may suffer from loss of appetite, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, mouth lesions, and patchy skin color. Diagnosis typically involves blood tests and imaging tests of the adrenal and pituitary glands. Treatment involves cortisol replacement therapy, which usually must be continued for life.
Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax.
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