Ongoing care for Cushing's syndrome
Although treatment measures can be quite effective for alleviating symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome, there are things a person can do themselves too, and most doctors will encourage this. It is a condition which can be treated and cured. It does, however, take some time for overall health to improve while symptoms are being treated. Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome do not typically develop rapidly, and thus aren’t likely to subside overnight either.
Recovery is a long road. Healing from surgical treatment is just one part of the process and takes up to a few weeks before any normal daily function can return. Disruptions to the body’s functions will need considerably more time to resolve. For some it’s a year or two, for others it may be longer.
How much time is dependent on the following factors:
- The amount of excess cortisol that is present in the body
- The underlying cause of the excess cortisol production
- Overall state of health
- How long a person has had Cushing’s syndrome before being diagnosed and treated and whether there are any accompanying complications requiring medical attention or monitoring
Measures for the most effective ongoing care can include:
- Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet: Some may benefit from working with a nutritionist to ensure the correct balance of nutrients is consumed daily, and also to manage weight. It’s important to understand how food can be used to fuel the body and keep energy levels up. Foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D can help to protect weakened bone structures and restore bone density loss caused by the condition. Foods high in fat or sodium should be limited as well. It is wise to keep in mind though, that appetite may be lost in the weeks following surgery and eating may feel much like a chore. Some find that they begin enjoying meals again several months after a surgical procedure.
- Gradually increase activity levels: It’s important to slowly increase levels of activity so as not to overwork an already weakened body. Improvements can be made little by little, and thus increase energy levels as a comfortable rate. It is advisable to work with a treating doctor and discuss exercise activities which may be best suited according to one’s overall health. In general, it is best to start with an activity, such as walking, which is most comfortable and increase frequency from there. Just as important as it is to gradually increase activity, it is also vital to get enough rest. Many find that they sleep for longer during recovery. At first many naps may be helpful. These may become less frequently needed as the body returns to normal. Within 6 months to a year, many find that they can return to their normal weight, and depending on how much was gained, have to consider options for the stretched, loose skin that will remain.
- Alleviate muscle and joint aches: Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, water aerobics or tai chi, as well as massages and hot baths can help to provide relief for aches and pain in the muscles and joints. Joint and muscle aches may very well form part of the slow recovery process, so it need not be too alarming to experience. It is best to keep in close contact with the treating doctor to ensure that exercise and associated muscle and joint aches are adequately managed during recovery.
- Seek out support: Weight gain, muscle weakness and general fatigue can take its toll on anyone, and for those with Cushing’s syndrome it unfortunately does, even when on the recovery side of things. It’s important that loved ones understand the effects of this as a result of the condition. A person may not always have the energy others expect of them while recovering. Helping loved ones to understand the nature of the condition can also open up opportunities for them to be more considerate and supportive of the healing process. When others better understand a condition, they can provide better support where it is needed. Support can also be gained from therapists and mental health professionals (counsellors) where anxiety or overwhelming feelings take hold. Coping with recovery can be difficult for some people and often results in side-effects of depression if not managed (due to a lack of normal pituitary function). Support groups are also a good way to learn more effective ways of coping through recovery and various challenges. Support groups are also a great source of comfort and encouragement during recovery and a place where common challenges can be shared.