Pituitary Cysts

A variety of cysts can appear within the pituitary gland. Although some pituitary tumors can have cystic components, most cysts are not true tumors. The most common cyst is a Rathke’s cleft cyst (RCC); others include arachnoid cysts, pars intermedia cysts and epidermoid cysts.

Rathke’s Cleft Cysts

Rathke’s cleft is a normal part of the developing pituitary gland in the fetus. In some people, the cleft becomes filled with liquid, creating a Rathke’s cleft cyst.


Although the majority of cysts are small and asymptomatic, some are noticed, either incidentally or because of specific symptoms, including:

  • Headaches
  • Visual deficits
  • Pituitary hormone deficiency — in women of childbearing years, this will affect menstrual cycles; in men, this causes a decreased sex drive

Pituitary Cysts Diagnosis & Treatment

MRI, CT scans and a visual exam help determine the presence and type of pituitary cyst.

Because most people with Rathke’s cleft cysts do not have symptoms, most do not need surgery.

While a small Rathke’s cleft cyst in a well person who has no problems (visual or endocrine) requires no therapy, those with large cysts who have visual deficits should be treated with surgery.


Virtually all Rathke’s cleft cysts can be operated on through the nasal passages without an external incision on the skin. Your surgeon may either attempt to remove the entire cyst wall or drain the cyst and remove only a portion of the wall. 

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.