The pituitary gland is a small organ which is located at the base of the brain. It is referred to as the master gland because it regulates and controls several endocrine glands of the body. The size of this regulating gland is that of a pea size. Pituitary gland is connected to the brain through the hypothalamus. The proper functioning of the pituitary gland is important for the overall well-being of our body.
Early Warning Signs of Pituitary Gland Disorders
In order to understand whether your pituitary gland is functioning properly, you need to know whether you are experiencing the following early warning signs of pituitary gland disorders. If you encounter any two or more of these problems, you need to consult an endocrinologist to get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Early Warning Signs of Pituitary Gland Disorders in Adults
- Loss of peripheral or blurred vision
- Experience menstrual irregularities and sexual dysfunction
- Enlargement of face, fingers, and forehead
- Bruise easily without an injury
- Weakening of muscles
Early Warning Signs of Pituitary Gland Disorders in Children
- Abnormal growth rate
- Early signs of puberty, girls before 7 and boys before 8 years
- Excessive drinking of water.
Pituitary Gland Disorders
There are various types of pituitary gland disorders. Each type has different symptoms, causes and treatment structure. Let us have a look at each in details.
Acromegaly as a Type of Pituitary Gland Disorder
It is a rare medical condition that is caused due to the presence of too much of growth hormone in the blood. In children, it is called gigantism and is quite rare. This pituitary gland disorder (acromegaly) mainly occurs in adults, middle-aged men, and women.
Causes: It is caused by a pituitary adenoma, a non-cancerous tumor present in the pituitary gland. The tumor produces GH in large quantity and raises the GH level in the blood. It also raises the IGH-1 level.
Symptoms: The symptoms are large feet, hands, thick lips, widely spaced teeth, coarse facial features. Symptoms are caused by high Growth Hormone levels, tumor volume effects, and hypopituitarism.
The high GH levels can lead to:
- Sleep apnea
- Heart failure
- High blood sugar
- Numbness of the feet and hands.
The hypopituitarism can cause:
- Menstrual disorders
- Lowered sexual desire
The tumor volume can lead to:
- Vision problems
Diagnosis: The doctor does a blood test to check the IGF-1 level. Another diagnosis is the oral glucose tolerance test.
Treatment: Treatment for this pituitary gland disorder (acromegaly) may be medication, surgery, radiation or a combination of these methods. If the cause of this condition is a pituitary tumor, surgery is the first treatment. If surgery cannot bring the GH level to normalcy, then medication and radiation are the options.
Cushing Disease as a Pituitary Gland Disorder
Cushing disease occurs when the body produces cortisol in huge quantity. The growth of the pituitary gland in excess can also cause Cushing disease.
Causes: The cause of this pituitary gland disorder, Cushing disease, is Adenoma, a benign pituitary tumor. The tumors are very small making them hard to diagnose.
Symptoms: The symptoms of this pituitary gland disorder (Cushing Disease) include:
- Wide purple stretch marks on chest, armpits, and abdomen
- Rapid weight gain
- Increased fat in neck
- Memory loss
- High blood sugar
- High blood pressure
Diagnosis: The blood tests are done to determine the cortisol levels in the blood. The doctor can do an MRI test to locate the tumor.
Treatment: The first line of treatment for this pituitary gland disorder (Cushing Disease) is the surgical removal of the tumor. Patients who do not get cured will have repeat surgery. If surgery does not work, radiation therapy is done for this type of pituitary gland disorder. Several medications like Dopamine agonist, Mifepristone, and Pasireotide can reduce cortisol level. If surgery and radiation cannot cure this, then medications need to be taken throughout life.
Hypopituitarism- Type of Pituitary Gland Disorder
Hypopituitarism is a medical condition where the pituitary gland does not produce sufficient hormones. When the pituitary hormones are not produced, or are low in production, the condition is referred to as panhypopituitarism. This pituitary gland disorder (hypopituitarism) affects the children and adults.
Causes: If the pituitary gland does not function, it results in no or low hormones. Tumors cause damage to the hypothalamus or the pituitary gland. Damage can also be caused due to surgery, radiation, and infection like meningitis. In this condition, one or more of the pituitary hormones is missing.
Symptoms: Some people have no symptoms while some may have symptoms in a gradual way. In some, symptoms may be dramatic and sudden. The symptoms are dependent on the causes that include the following:
TSH Deficiency: It includes symptoms such as weight gain, constipation, muscle weakness, and decreased energy.
FSH and LH Deficiency: The symptoms in women are infertility and irregular or stopped menstrual periods. In men, weakness, loss of facial and body hair, erectile dysfunction and infertility are the symptoms of hypopituitarism.
GH Deficiency: The symptoms in children are short height, poor growth, fat in the face and around the waist. In adults, the symptoms are weight gain, anxiety, depression, low energy, and decreased muscle mass.
Prolactin Deficiency: In women there are symptoms of fatigue, lack of milk production and loss of pubic hair. There are no symptoms in men.
ADH Deficiency: The symptoms are excessive urination and thirst.
Diagnosis: The medical practitioner will perform the blood tests for determining the low hormonal level. The following tests are performed:
- TSH and thyroxine test
- ACTH and Cortrosyn test
- Prolactin test
- FSH and LH
- GH stimulation test
Treatment: The drugs that treat hypopituitarism are Glucocorticosteroids, Thyroid hormone replacement therapy and surgery to remove the tumor.
Diabetes Insipidus (DI)- a Pituitary Gland Disorder
It is a rare medical condition that leads to excessive thirst and frequent urination. It is not related to Type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms: The symptoms of this pituitary gland disorder (diabetes insipidus) are nausea, headache, seizures, confusion and in rare cases, death. Other complications of diabetes insipidus as a pituitary gland disorder are low blood pressure, dehydration and high sodium levels in the blood.
Causes and Treatment: There are four kinds of diabetes insipidus. The treatments depend on the type of Diabetes Insipidus and the cause.
Central Diabetes Insipidus: The pituitary gland is damaged due to injury, tumor or surgery. It is treated with synthetic antidiuretic hormone: desmopressin, which is given by nasal spray, pill or injection.
Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus: The pituitary gland releases Antidiuretic Hormone into the body, but the kidneys do not respond to it. This is treated by anti-inflammatory medicine.
Dipsogenic Diabetes Insipidus: Too much intake of fluid caused due to a problem with thirst mechanism or because of drinking too many fluids. This leads to low sodium in the blood and brain damage. There is no treatment except a restriction in fluid intake.
Pregnancy-related Diabetes Insipidus: The placenta makes a substance, which prevents a mother’s antidiuretic hormone from working. This treatment is a pill or a nasal spray.
Hyperprolactinemia- a Pituitary Gland Disorder
When the levels of prolactin in the blood are higher than the normal levels, it is called Hyperprolactinemia.
Causes: The common cause of hyperprolactinemia is the growth of a tumor on the pituitary gland, resulting in high levels of production of prolactin. The tumors can be either small or large, but are not cancerous. It is more common in women than men.
Symptoms: The symptoms are decreased sex drive, infertility in both men and women, and bone loss. Additionally, women can have vaginal dryness, irregular periods and production of breast milk even when not nursing or pregnant.
Diagnosis: A normal blood test can detect too much prolactin. If the levels are too high, more tests can check the blood levels of the thyroid hormone. MRI of the brain and pituitary gland is done if prolactinoma is suspected.
Treatment: Treatment is established on the cause. There are people who have high levels of prolactin, but with no or few signs or symptoms and generally do not require any treatment. The treatment, if required, includes the following:
- Prescription medicines like Bromocriptine and cabergoline work well for most patients.
- Surgery is used to remove a tumor if medications do not prove to be effective.
- Radiation is used, if both medications and surgery are not fruitful.
Pituitary Tumors as a Pituitary Gland Disorder
The abnormal growths found in the pituitary gland are called the pituitary tumors. The tumors are benign, but may cause hormonal imbalances and may interfere with the normal functioning of the pituitary gland.
Causes: The causes of pituitary tumors are the hormonal changes or tumor mass.
Symptoms: The symptoms depend on the cause and they vary from one person to another. Symptoms of tumor mass pressure are headaches and trouble in seeing.
Other symptoms are dry skin, dizziness, fatigue, sexual dysfunction in men, and irregular periods in women.
Diagnosis: The doctor can order for a blood test to detect the hormone levels. Further, MRI scan needs to be done too to look at the pituitary gland. If the tumor is found, other blood tests needs to be done to find out the type of tumor.
Treatment: Treatment for this pituitary gland disorder depends on the size and the type of tumor. Some are treated with medications alone while some may require surgery or a combination of treatments which includes radiation therapy.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic Brain injury or TBI occurs when the head gets hit repeatedly or the head hits something violently, causing abrupt damage to the brain.
Causes: The causes include motor vehicle accidents, falls, domestic violence like beating, child abuse, gunshot wounds, or injuries in sports and explosions.
Symptoms: The symptoms are fatigue, weight loss, vomiting, convulsions, low blood pressure, dehydration, breast enlargement, muscle loss, loss of body hair, and sexual dysfunction in men.
Diagnosis: The doctor will ask for blood tests to check the hormone levels and may do an MRI of the pituitary gland to check for tumors and cysts.
Treatment: Often, the doctors go for hormone therapy to replace the missing hormones. Other problems may require treatments like treating hyponatremia by reducing the fluid intake, getting an IV saline solution through the vein and medications.
Out of every five individuals, one has an abnormal growth on the pituitary gland, which causes health complications. If it is left untreated and undiagnosed, the pituitary gland disorder can impair the normal functioning of hormone and it can reduce the lifespan. Therefore, the proper diagnosis and treatment can cure a patient completely of the pituitary gland disorders.