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Hypopituitarism

Alternative names: Pituitary Insufficiency

What is hypopituitarism?
What are the signs of hypopituitarism?
What causes hypopituitarism?
How does my doctor tell if I have hypopituitarism?
How is hypopituitarism treated?

What is hypopituitarism?

Hypopituitarism is a condition in which the pituitary gland is not producing one or more of its hormones, or is producing them at lower than normal levels. These hormones stimulate other endocrine glands to produce their hormones. For example, if the pituitary gland doesn't make thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), the thyroid gland doesn't work correctly.

Hypopituitarism is a rare disorder.

What are the signs of hypopituitarism?

The symptoms of hypopituitarism depend on which hormones are being under-produced by the pituitary gland:

  • Insufficient adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH): adrenal insufficiency, which can cause low blood pressure, low blood sugar, fatigue, and a low tolerance for stress. This can be a dangerous condition.
  • Insufficient thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH): hypothyroidism, which can cause a patient to feel tired, feel chilly, have puffiness around the face and eyes, and have a slow heart rate
  • Insufficient anti-diuretic hormone (ADH): increased urination, thirst, and diabetes insipidus
  • Insufficient sex hormones (testosterone in males, LH and FSH in women): in women, absent menstrual cycles, infertility, loss of female characteristics; in men, impotence, infertility, loss of male characteristics
  • Insufficient prolactin: may cause a woman to be unable to produce breast milk after childbirth
  • Insufficient growth hormone: lack of growth in children

What causes hypopituitarism?

Hypopituitarism is often caused by an abnormal growth, or tumor, on the pituitary gland. Most pituitary tumors are benign (non-cancerous), and are called adenomas.

Damage to the pituitary gland can also cause hypopituitarism. Such damage can be caused by head injuries, radiation treatment for cancer, autoimmune disorders, a stroke, infections, and disease.

Diseases of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain located just above the pituitary, can also cause hypopituitarism.

How does my doctor tell if I have hypopituitarism?

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose hypopituitarism:

  • Blood tests to check the levels of the hormones usually produced by the pituitary gland (ACTH, TSH, ADH, sex hormones, prolactin, growth hormone)
  • Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the head and brain, to check for pituitary tumors
  • For children, a X-ray of the hand and wrist can help determine if the bones are growing normally

How is hypopituitarism treated?

If hypopituitarism is caused by a pituitary tumor, treatment is aimed at removing the tumor, or reducing its effects. This can include medication, surgery, and/or radiation therapy.

Pituitary hormone replacement therapy is often required after successful treatment of a pituitary tumor.

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