The pituitary gland is a small, pea-sized gland at the base of the brain responsible for producing or regulating several hormones. Sometimes the gland can malfunction, or certain disorders can cause other problems unrelated to hormone levels. Learn about the most common pituitary conditions here. If you have any symptoms that cause concern, contact your doctor.
By far the most common pituitary condition is a pituitary tumor, called an adenoma. About 99% of these are benign, and half of these are nonfunctional, meaning they don’t produce hormones themselves. They can, however, cause headaches or problems with vision by pressing on surrounding areas of the brain or by interfering with the pituitary gland’s ability to produce hormones. For example, the pressure can cause underproduction of some (hypopituitarism) or all (panhypopituitarism) of the hormones the pituitary gland is supposed to supply. Even if a surgeon removes the tumor and releases the pressure, the patient may still need hormone replacement therapy.
Functional adenomas, on the other hand, cause overproduction of some types of hormones. This overproduction can cause endocrine system problems such as acromegaly, or the production of too many growth hormones. Too few growth hormones can be the result of a tumor, or they can result from a tumor treatment such as surgery or radiation.
Functional adenomas can also cause Cushing’s syndrome, which causes overproduction of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). ACTH is supposed to regulate cortisol production; however, excess ACTH causes overproduction of cortisol, leading to related health problems such as high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, irregular periods, or easy bruising. It’s important to note that all of these conditions can exist independently of Cushing’s, so they don’t necessarily indicate a pituitary problem.
Another type of functional pituitary tumor is a prolactinoma. This is a tumor on the pituitary gland that causes excess production of the hormone that enables lactation, a condition called hyperprolactinemia. This can cause women who are not pregnant and who haven’t recently given birth to produce milk. It can also cause menstrual irregularities and even infertility. The condition is treatable with medication or surgery. Diagnosis requires the involvement of an endocrinologist.
Several other health conditions may be related to common pituitary conditions. If you have concerns about any symptoms you’re experiencing, consult your general practitioner or internist. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist in endocrinology. Dr. Philip Rabito is a top-rated endocrinologist in NYC who can help patients in the city and the surrounding areas.