A pituitary tumor is an abnormal
growth in the pituitary gland. The pituitary is a small gland in the brain. It is
located behind the back of the nose. It makes hormones that affect many other glands and
many functions in your body. Most pituitary tumors are not cancer (benign). They don’t
spread to other parts of your body. But they can cause the pituitary to make too few or
too many hormones, causing problems in the body.
Pituitary tumors that make too many
hormones will cause other glands to make more hormones. That will cause symptoms linked
to each of the specific hormones. Many pituitary tumors will also press against the
nearby optic nerves. This can cause vision problems.
Most pituitary tumors don’t cause
symptoms. So they are not diagnosed. Or they are found only during routine brain
imaging or blood tests. About 1 in 4 people may have small pituitary tumors without
Below are the main types of pituitary tumors.
These tumors are the most common
type. They don’t make extra hormones. You may not have any symptoms until the tumor
is a certain size. When the tumor is big enough, it may cause headaches and vision
problems. Large pituitary tumors can put pressure on normal pituitary cells. This
leads to symptoms caused by decreased hormone production.
These benign tumors are also
common. They make too much prolactin. If you are a woman, high prolactin levels can
make your menstrual period irregular, or even stop your period. These tumors can also
cause you to make breastmilk, even if you are not pregnant or nursing. If you are a
man, you may have erectile dysfunction or a lack of interest in sex. You may also
have enlarged breasts, a low sperm count, or less body hair. In time, you may have
headaches and vision problems.
These tumors make too much ACTH
(adrenocorticotropic hormone). This hormone stimulates the adrenal gland to make
steroids that affect metabolism. These are called glucocorticoids. They reduce
redness and swelling (inflammation) all over the body. They also slow down your
immune system. Too much ACTH can cause Cushing disease. This disease causes fat
buildup in your face, neck, back, belly (abdomen), and chest. Also your arms and legs
tend to become thin. You may also have purple stretch marks and high blood pressure.
These tumors can also weaken your bones.
These tumors make too much growth hormone. In children, too much growth hormone stimulates the growth of almost all the bones in the body. When that occurs, the result is called gigantism. Gigantism can include increased height (over 7 feet), very quick growth, joint pain, and heavy sweating. In adults, too much growth hormone causes a condition called acromegaly. It may include:
Experts don't know what causes these tumors. But a condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (MEN 1) may raise your risk. This condition is passed down through families.
Symptoms depend on the type of
tumor and the area of the pituitary gland that is affected. These tumors can lead
to symptoms caused by too much or too little of the pituitary hormones. Each person’s
symptoms may vary.
The symptoms may also look like
other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your healthcare provider will ask
about your health history and do a physical exam. You may also need one of these
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It
will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment may include:
Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms return or you have new symptoms.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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