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Pituitary gland

Alternative Names
pituitary gland deficiency

The pituitary gland is located inside the skull. When this gland becomes less active than normal for any reason, hypopituitarism is said to occur.

What is going on in the body?
The pituitary gland is sometimes called the master gland of the body. It secretes many important hormones that have different effects on other glands in the body. When the pituitary gland is not working correctly, many things can go wrong in the body.

The danger of hypopituitarism is that levels of other key hormones may become too low. When thyroid hormone and adrenal hormone are extremely low, death may occur. The underlying cause of this condition, such as a tumour, may also have risks.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
A decrease in pituitary gland activity can result in low levels of:
  • sex hormones. This can reduce the sex drive, affect the ability to have children or breastfeed, and cause menstrual cycle problems in women.
  • thyroid hormone, known as hypothyroidism. This can cause fatigue, weight gain, slow heartbeat, and impaired thinking.
  • adrenal hormone. This may result in salt imbalances, fatigue, and low blood pressure.
  • growth hormone. This may cause children to be abnormally short.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
This condition has several causes, including:
  • tumours of the pituitary gland
  • surgical removal of the pituitary gland
  • abnormal inflammation of the pituitary gland, such as from an infection
  • a complication of childbirth
  • radiation to the head
  • head injury
What can be done to prevent the condition?
Usually, nothing can be done to prevent this condition.

How is the condition diagnosed?
A doctor may suspect this problem based upon a person's medical history and a physical examination. Blood tests can confirm the diagnosis. Further tests, including special x-rays, may be needed to confirm the cause.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
The decrease in pituitary activity may be permanent. If so, a person will need hormone medications for the rest of his or her life. If left untreated, very low levels of thyroid hormone or adrenal hormone can result in death. The underlying condition causing hypopituitarism may have its own long-term effects.

What are the risks to others?
There are no risks to others.

What are the treatments for the condition?
If possible, the underlying cause is treated. This may involve medications or surgery. Hormone replacement pills, patches, implants or injections are often required to boost low levels of certain hormones in the body.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
All medications have side effects, including allergic reactions and stomach upset. Hormone medications may cause the hormone level to get too high, which can be toxic to the body. Other side effects vary, depending on the medications used. When surgery is done, there is a risk of bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to anaesthesia.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
If the cause is successfully treated and the pituitary gland recovers, a person may not need further treatment. In most cases, though, this is not possible. Treatment with hormone replacement pills or injections are often needed for life.

How is the condition monitored?
The doctor will monitor the functioning of the pituitary gland with periodic examinations and blood tests. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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