Context: The diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome (CS) requires the use of tests of unregulated hypercortisolism that have unclear accuracy.
Objective: Our objective was to summarize evidence on the accuracy of common tests for diagnosing CS.
Data sources: We searched electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, Web of Science, Scopus, and citation search for key articles) from 1975 through September 2007 and sought additional references from experts.
Study selection: Eligible studies reported on the accuracy of urinary free cortisol (UFC), dexamethasone suppression test (DST), and midnight cortisol assays vs. reference standard in patients suspected of CS.
Data extraction: Reviewers working in duplicate and independently extracted study characteristics and quality and data to estimate the likelihood ratio (LR) and the 95% confidence interval (CI) for each result.
Data synthesis: We found 27 eligible studies, with a high prevalence [794 (9.2%) of 8631 patients had CS] and severity of CS. The tests had similar accuracy: UFC (n = 14 studies; LR+ 10.6, CI 5.5-20.5; LR- 0.16, CI 0.08-0.33), salivary midnight cortisol (n = 4; LR+ 8.8, CI 3.5-21.8; LR- 0.07, CI 0-1.2), and the 1-mg overnight DST (n = 14; LR+ 16.4, CI 9.3-28.8; LR- 0.06, CI 0.03-0.14). Combined testing strategies (e.g. a positive result in both UFC and 1-mg overnight DST) had similar diagnostic accuracy (n = 3; LR+ 15.4, CI 0.7-358; LR- 0.11, CI 0.007-1.57).
Conclusions: Commonly used tests to diagnose CS appear highly accurate in referral practices with samples enriched with patients with CS. Their performance in usual clinical practice remains unclear.