The pituitary gland is a vital part of the endocrine system. As tiny as a pea, and located towards the bottom center of the brain, the pituitary gland secretes hormones that stimulate other endocrine glands to function properly. The pituitary gland helps regulate metabolic functions, as well as growth, reproduction and blood pressure levels.

Pituitary tumors are growths on the gland. Pituitary tumors can cause either too much or too little hormone production. In most cases, these tumors do not spread and are not considered to be cancerous.

Risk Factors

People are at a higher risk for developing pituitary tumors due to particular factors. These may include:

  • Age; patients are generally older
  • Family history

Symptoms 

Since the pituitary gland regulates many other hormone-producing organs, symptoms can vary, depending on the affected area. In addition, sometimes pituitary tumors secrete hormones themselves, causing biochemical symptoms.

Three or more of the following symptoms are generally present because of pituitary tumors:

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Growth of jaw, hands and feet
  • Breast secretion
  • Depression
  • Infertility
  • Growth issues
  • Osteoporosis
  • Joint pain
  • Excessive bruising
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Cessation of menstrual periods
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Headaches or difficulty seeing
  • Unusual weight changes

Hormone-producing pituitary tumors can result in the following symptoms:

  • Weight gain in the upper back and gut
  • Development of a hump on the upper back
  • Unusual facial roundness or hardening facial features
  • Unusual growth in hands and feet
  • Leaking milky liquid from the breasts (women)
  • Breast growth (men)
  • Loss of muscle and body hair (men)
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Unusual jittery or ill-tempered moods

Diagnosis 

Your doctor can detect the presence of a pituitary tumor in the following ways:

  • Blood and Urine Samples: Abnormal hormone levels can be detected through the blood and urine.
  • Imaging: With either a CT scan or MR scan, your physician can verify the existence of a pituitary tumor, as well as determine its exact size and placement.
  • Vision Tests: With an eye test, your doctor will be able to determine whether the pituitary tumor has grown large enough to significantly affect your vision.

A Diagnosis of a Pituitary Tumor 

After examining the results of one or more of these tests, your doctor may inform you that you have a pituitary tumor. Since the gland affects so many different bodily functions, the specific diagnosis is based on where the tumor is causing the majority of symptoms.

Treatment 

Treatment varies according to the size of the tumor, what structure it is affecting and how deeply embedded in the brain. With early detection and treatment, the prognosis for recovery is generally excellent.

  • Surgery : This is the most common option, especially in cases where the tumor is putting pressure on the optic nerve and causing vision problems
  • Radiation : This option can be used along with surgery or by itself. The two types of radiation therapy used are external beam radiation and gamma-knife radiosurgery.
  • Medication : Certain drugs can suppress overproduction of hormones and help reduce tumor size.

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