Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Exogenous Cushing's syndrome due to a Chinese herbalist’s prescription of ointment containing dexamethasone
  1. Viola Franke1,
  2. Winnie Francien Scholtens2,
  3. Ines Alexandra von Rosenstiel3,
  4. Marie Jose Walenkamp4
  1. 1 Oncologic Surgery, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2 Pediatrics, OLVG West Hospital, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  3. 3 Pediatrics, Rijnstate Hospital, Arnhem, The Netherlands
  4. 4 Pediatrics, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Miss Winnie Francien Scholtens, winnie_scholtens{at}


Eczema in children is a chronic disabling condition. The impact of this condition on the lives of families is often underestimated by conventional physicians. As a consequence parents may investigate complementary treatment options. Close monitoring by a paediatrician is essential, considering that a variety of adverse effects can occur during the use of complementary treatment. We present a 5-year-old girl with eczema. She visited a Chinese herbalist who prescribed an ointment. The parents noticed that the eczema resolved fast, itching decreased and she was finally sleeping well. However, her behaviour changed and appetite increased. Undetectable levels of serum cortisol were found, which was indicative of exogenous Cushing's syndrome. Analysis of the ointment revealed the presence of dexamethasone. Hydrocortisone substitution and subsequently a reduction schedule were implemented, after which endogenous cortisol production recovered after 4 months. Physicians should be aware that unregistered herbal medicine can contain potent drugs such as glucocorticoids.

  • Drugs: endocrine system
  • Healthcare improvement and patient safety
  • Paediatrics
  • Unwanted effects / adverse reactions

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors VF and WFS wrote the first draft of the paper. IAR and MJW contributed to the design and revised the work critically for intellectual content. The paper has been seen and approved by all authors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Collaborators The authors would like to thank Hans Krabbe and Dennis Poland for help with the diagnostic process.