The pituitary gland is an endocrine gland that sits at the base of the brain, roughly behind the bridge of your nose. The pituitary gland is about the size of a pea. Known as the “master gland,” it secretes hormones that regulate the functions of other glands (the thyroid, adrenal gland and testes or ovaries), as well as growth and several body functions.
When do pituitary disorders occur?
Pituitary disorders occur when the pituitary gland makes too much or too little of a particular hormone. Most often, these disorders are caused by a pituitary tumor.
Most pituitary tumors are noncancerous (benign). But when a tumor grows on or near the pituitary gland, the tumor can change hormone production, leading to symptoms such as weight gain, stunted or excessive growth, high blood pressure, low sex drive or mood changes. If it presses against the pituitary gland, optic nerves or brain tissue, this can cause vision problems or headaches.
The most common hormone produced by pituitary tumor is prolactin. Prolactin-producing tumors (“prolactinomas”) are more frequent in women. They can cause irregularity or loss of periods, infertility, and breast milk secretion. In men, excessive prolactin can cause reduced libido and erectile dysfunction.
Acromegaly occurs when a pituitary tumor produces excess growth hormones. Affecting mostly middle-aged adults, symptoms vary and can include diabetes and high blood pressure, swelling of the hands and feet, coarsening of facial features and body hair, increasing perspiration and body odor, irregular menstrual cycles and breast milk production in women, and erectile dysfunction in men. More than 95 percent of acromegaly cases are caused by benign tumors on the pituitary gland.
Cushing disease occurs when a pituitary tumor produces excessive amounts of a hormone called ACTH. This causes elevation of blood cortisol levels. It is more frequent in women. Symptoms include weight gain with peculiar distribution (mostly mid-section), rounding of the face, depression, irregular periods, insomnia, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, easy bruising, and kidney stones, among others.
Diabetes insipidus results from insufficient production of ADH, a hormone that helps the body conserve the correct amount of water. Diabetes insipidus is not related to the more common type of diabetes, diabetes mellitus, although some of the symptoms—excessive thirst, excessive urine production and dehydration—are similar.
Empty sella syndrome
Empty sella syndrome is characterized by an enlarged bony structure that houses the pituitary gland at the base of the brain. Additional symptoms, although there may also be none, can include impotence, reduced sexual desire and irregular menstruation.
Hypopituitarism, also called an underactive pituitary gland, affects the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland, usually resulting in a partial or complete loss of functioning of that lobe. This can manifest with a variety of symptoms that relate to the lack of hormones produced by the target glands (adrenals, thyroid, and testes or ovaries).
Why choose Nebraska Medicine for pituitary care
We have a multidisciplinary team of experts including endocrinologists, neurosurgeons and radio-oncology specialists working at our skull-based clinic to help treat pituitary-related disorders. Our goal is patient-centered care, with an emphasis on your quality of life as well as your treatment success. We use a team-based approach, with an array of highly skilled specialists working together for each patient.
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