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Hypopituitarism

The pituitary gland, located in the brain, produces several important hormones that control the production of other hormones made by glands in the body. These glands, in turn, manage your:

  • Growth
  • Blood pressure
  • Sex organ function
  • Thyroid gland function
  • Breast milk production and other aspects of pregnancy and birth
  • Control of sugars and fats into energy or storage
  • Water balance in the body

Hypopituitarism occurs with the insufficient production of one or more hormones. This uncommon disorder within the pituitary can cause the reduction of hormone production in other glands, too. This poses a serious and sometimes, life-threatening problem. It will require care from your doctor.

Pituitary Gland

Pituitary Gland

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Hypopituitarism Causes

Several factors may cause this condition:

  • Tumors of the pituitary gland, hypothalamus or brain
  • Poor blood supply to the pituitary gland
  • Head trauma
  • Radiation to pituitary gland, head or neck
  • Stroke
  • Infections and inflammatory diseases
  • Uncommon immune system or metabolic diseases
  • A rare complication after pregnancy, called Sheehan’s syndrome
  • Metastatic cancer from lung, colon, prostate or melanoma

Risk of Hypopituitarism

Factors that increase your the chance for hypopituitarism include:

  • History of childhood cancer (treatment can damage the endocrine system, which controls hormones)
  • Infections
  • Genetics
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Reduced blood volume or hypovolemia

Hypopituitarism Symptoms

Symptoms often begin gradually and are not very specific since hormones control a variety of body functions. They may not be recognized for a while. Specific symptoms will depend on the type and level of hormone affected. For example:

  • Growth hormone deficiency:
    • Poor overall growth
    • Short stature
    • Increased blood pressure
    • Central obesity
    • Muscle weakness
    • Small heart
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone deficiency:
    • Sensitivity to cold
    • Weight gain
    • Constipation
    • Hair that is brittle and coarse
    • Heart rate slowed
    • Dry skin
    • Muscle weakness or fatigue
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) deficiency:
    • Fatigue and weakness
    • Low blood pressure
    • Weight loss
    • Increase in skin pigmentation
    • Amenorrhea
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone deficiency:
    • Infertility in men and women
    • Vaginal dryness
    • Loss of some gender-specific sexual characteristics (women may lose hair from their underarms, body and pubic area)
    • Reduced libido
    • Amenorrhea
    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Muscle weakness
    • Small testes
    • Breast enlargement in men

Diagnosing Hypopituitarism

Your doctor may refer you to an endocrinologist. This is a type of doctor that focuses on hormone disorders.

Tests to determine hypopituitarism include taking a blood sample to do the following:

  • Measure the levels of hormones produced by the pituitary gland
  • Measure the levels of hormones produced by target endocrine glands, which are influenced by the pituitary gland
Imaging scans can help identify problems such as abnormal tissue and growth or shrinkage of the pituitary gland

Hypopituitarism Treatment

This condition will remain permanently, needing lifelong treatment.

Medications

If the condition is caused by a tumor, it is first treated with medications.

Surgery

Medication may not always work. In this case, surgery can remove the tumor and all or part of the gland. 

You may require hormone replacement therapy after surgery.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

In most cases, therapy does not replace the hormones that the pituitary gland produces, but the hormones of the glands regulated by the pituitary.

Radiation Therapy

You might need radiation after other treatments. 

 

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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.

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