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Last Updated: Monday, 24 January, 2005, 01:24 GMT
'My face swelled like a balloon'
By Michelle Roberts
BBC News health reporter

Image of Federica
Federica is relieved to be back to her old self
Medical science has come a long way in the 100 years since hormones were named and discovered.

It has helped Federica Costella smile again and see her real face looking back at her when she stands in front of the mirror.

Last summer it was an entirely different story.

Federica was diagnosed with a condition called Cushing's syndrome.

Cushing's occurs when the body makes too much of a hormone called cortisol.

This can cause a number of symptoms, as Federica discovered.
My face was like a moon.
Federica initially thought it was normal weight gain

"I started to swell up and put on weight.

"I gained about 15 kilos in three to four months.

"At the beginning I thought it was because I was eating too much and so I dieted. But nothing happened.

"I had a big neck and shoulders. But it wasn't fat.

"It was incredible. My face was like a moon. It swelled like a balloon."


Federica became concerned when her skin became very delicate and bruised easily.

"Everything I touched with my legs would break the skin and I would bleed.

"My wounds would take ages to heal. They would last for six to eight months.

"It was very upsetting because I play a lot of sport. It stopped me going to the gym and swimming."

She went to see her GP in Genoa, Italy, where she lived at the time. He suspected it might be diabetes and referred her to a hormone specialist.

Further tests revealed that it was Cushing's syndrome.

There are a number of causes. In Federica's case it was a non-cancerous tumour of a gland in the brain called the pituitary, which controls some of the body's hormones.

The doctors initially decided to give her medication to dampen down her cortisol levels, but it did little to help.

'Complete cure'

In 2001, they decided to operate to remove the tumour.

"They removed it, but nothing changed and I became quite depressed," said Federica.

"I continued with the tablets until 2003 when I told my doctor that I was moving to the UK to study English.

"He told me there was an expert in London, where I would be staying."

In March 2004, after being referred by her London GP, Federica went to Barts and the London Hospital to see Professor Ashley Grossman, a consultant endocrinologist.

He did further tests and decided more of the pituitary gland needed removing in order to cure Federica.

"Now I'm completely cured. It's brilliant. I feel perfect.

"I have to take some hormone supplements because they removed about half of my pituitary, but I feel great.

"I'm now 64 kilos. Before I got Cushing's I was 60 kilos and when I had it I weighed 76 kilos. So I'm back on track.

"I don't feel embarrassed any more and I can do all the things I used to enjoy."

'Shock over hormone treatment'
20 Aug 04 |  Northern Ireland


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