Pregnancy-associated Cushing's disease? An exploratory retrospective study

Pituitary. 2018 Dec;21(6):584-592. doi: 10.1007/s11102-018-0910-6.


Purpose: In most clinical series of Cushing's disease (CD), over 80% of patients are women, many of whom are of reproductive age. The year following pregnancy may be a common time to develop CD. We sought to establish the incidence of CD onset associated with pregnancy.

Methods: A retrospective review was conducted for patients with biochemically-proven CD. Demographics, clinical history, biochemistry, imaging, pathology, and outcomes were reviewed. Pregnancy-associated CD was defined as symptom onset within 1 year of childbirth.

Results: Over 10 years, 77 patients including 64 women (84%), with CD underwent endonasal surgery. Of the 64 women, 64% were of reproductive age (15-45 years) at the time of diagnosis, and 11 (27%) met criteria for pregnancy-associated CD. Of these 11 women, median number of pregnancies prior to onset of CD was 2 (range 1-4) compared to zero (range 0-7) for 30 other women with CD onset during reproductive age (p = 0.0024). With an average follow-up of 47 ± 34 months, sustained surgical remission rates for woman with pregnancy-associated CD, other women of reproductive age, and women not of reproductive age were 91%, 80% and 83%, respectively. The average lag-time from symptom onset to diagnosis for women with pregnancy-associated CD was 4 ± 2 years.

Conclusions: In this exploratory study, over one quarter of women of reproductive age with CD appeared to have symptomatic disease onset within 1 year of childbirth. This relatively high rate of pregnancy-associated CD suggests a possible causal relationship related to the stress of pregnancy and pituitary corticotroph hyperactivity in the peripartum period. This possible association suggests a heightened degree of clinical suspicion and biochemical testing for CD may be warranted after childbirth. Further study of this possible link between pregnancy and CD is warranted.

Keywords: Corticotrophs; Cushing’s disease; Hypercortisolemia; Peripartum; Pituitary adenoma; Pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Corticotrophs / metabolism
  • Corticotrophs / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Peripartum Period
  • Pituitary ACTH Hypersecretion / metabolism*
  • Pituitary ACTH Hypersecretion / pathology
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / pathology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult