The effect of Cushing's syndrome on respiratory muscle strength is unknown. Therefore, we studied 10 consecutive patients with severe Cushing's syndrome. The respiratory muscles were assessed using maximal inspiratory and expiratory mouth pressures (MIP, MEP), maximal sniff transdiaphragmatic pressures (max sniff Pdi), and maximal sniff esophageal pressures (max sniff Pes). Maximal quadricep strength was also assessed. The patients demonstrated an overall mean MIP 92 cm H(2)O, SD 19 (mean 105% of predicted; SD, 23%), mean MEP 134 cm H(2)O, SD 35 (mean 99% of predicted; SD, 25%), mean max sniff Pdi 107 cm H(2)O, SD 12 (mean 78% of predicted; SD, 10%) and mean max sniff Pes of 92 cm H(2)O, SD 11 (mean 92% of predicted; SD, 11%). Quadriceps muscle strength was reduced in all 10 patients: mean 26 kg, SD 9 (mean 49% of predicted strength, SD 21%). Respiratory muscle weakness was not found, despite the presence of severe quadriceps impairment. We conclude that major weakness of the respiratory muscles is not usual in Cushing's syndrome.