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Alternate Names

  • pituitary gland deficiency
  • Pituitary gland


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.

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, 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.


What are the causes and risks of the condition?

This condition has several causes, including:
  • tumors 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 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.

Long Term Effects

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.

Other Risks

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 or injections are often required to boost low levels of certain hormones in the body.

Side Effects

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. Surgery can be complicated by bleeding, infection, or a reaction to the anesthetic.

After Treatment

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 is often needed for life.


How is the condition monitored?

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.

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