The pituitary gland is located inside the skull, underneath the brain. It produces at least eight different hormones that govern a wide variety of body functions. When this gland becomes less active than normal for any reason, hypopituitarism is said to occur.
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, several serious illness and abnormalities may occur in the body.
The main danger of hypopituitarism is that levels of other key hormones may become too low. For instance, a shortage of either thyroid hormone or cortisol (made by the adrenal glands) is a life-threatening condition. If hypopituitarism is caused by a tumor, the tumor may cause other problems of its own, such as pressing on the optic nerve, resulting in interference with a person's vision. The tumor could also rupture, leading to bleeding into the brain.
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.
This condition has several causes, including: tumors of the pituitary glandsurgical removal of the pituitary glandabnormal inflammation of the pituitary gland, such as from an infectiona complication of childbirthradiation to the headhead injury
Usually, nothing can be done to prevent this condition.
A healthcare professional 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.
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.
There are no risks to others.
If possible, the underlying cause is treated. This may involve medications or surgery. Hormone replacement pills or injections are often required to boost low levels of certain hormones in the body.
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. Surgery can be complicated by bleeding, infection, or a reaction to the anesthetic.
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 is often needed for life.
The healthcare professional will monitor the functioning of the pituitary gland with periodic examinations and blood tests. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.
Cecil's Textbook of Medicine, 1996, Bennett et al.