Cortisol is a substance produced in the adrenal grand that is released in order to help the body deal with stress. The main function of cortisol is to increase the level of sugar in the blood as well as suppress the body’s immune system. In some cases, a person may suffer from high cortisol levels. Some of the effects of high cortisol include an increased risk of stomach ulcers, weight gain and a weak immune system. Cushing’s syndrome may also occur in people with high levels of cortisol.
Although there are many different effects of high cortisol they are usually not immediately noticeable. An increased level of the substance in the body will not make the person feel or behave any differently straight away. If, however, high cortisol is present over a prolonged period of time then this can lead to problems including a weak immune system and decrease in general health. It is thought that high levels of cortisol may even cause issues such as a loss of certain types of memory and Type 2 diabetes.
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Weight gain and an inability to get rid of excess fat around the abdomen is a common effect of high levels of cortisol. By itself it can be difficult to diagnose the condition just from this symptom, but combined with some of the others it can be a sign of chronic stress. Stress doesn’t necessarily just mean mental stress — it can also refer to physical stress such as that which occurs after a serious injury. Treatment for the condition usually focuses on working out what is causing the stress in the first place.
If a person’s bloodstream has a dramatically increased amount of cortisol then Cushing’s syndrome may occur. Symptoms of this condition include an increased blood pressure, stretch marks, diabetes and depression. Women may also find that their menstrual cycles are disrupted and that they have an increased amount of facial hair while men may suffer from a lower sex drive.
In order to diagnose high cortisol a doctor will usually run a test. Managing the problem usually involves managing stress levels. This can be difficult if the person has an inherently stressful job or lifestyle but it is often the most effective way of making long term health gains. Cortisol is released as a reaction to stress and hence if a person remains continuously stressed over a long period of time then health problems are inevitable.