What Is the Pituitary Gland?
The pituitary gland is a very small organ located at the base of the brain. It produces various hormones essential for processes such as growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, maintaining muscle and bone mass, and maintaining blood pressure. The pituitary gland has two parts that each perform a different function: the anterior lobe and the posterior lobe.
The anterior lobe produces and secretes the following hormones:
- Growth hormone
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone
- Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH)
- Luteinizing hormone (LH)
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
The posterior lobe stores and releases the following hormones:
The pituitary gland is connected to the hypothalamus region of the brain. The hypothalamus sends signals to the pituitary gland that either stimulate or inhibit pituitary gland hormone production.
Diseases of the Pituitary Gland
Pituitary diseases treated at MedStar Washington Hospital Center include, but are not limited to:
Pituitary tumors - The most commonly diagnosed condition of the pituitary gland is a pituitary tumor. Pituitary tumors can affect the normal function of the pituitary gland, which may cause hormonal imbalances.
Acromegaly - Acromegaly is a rare disorder characterized by too much growth hormone in the body. Acromegaly is typically caused by a benign (noncancerous) tumor in the pituitary gland.
Cushing’s disease - Sometimes, the body produces too much cortisol. This general condition is referred to as Cushing’s syndrome. When elevated levels of cortisol are caused by a pituitary tumor, this is referred to as Cushing’s disease.
Hyperprolactinemia - Hyperprolactinemia is a condition in which the body makes too much prolactin hormone.
Diabetes insipidus - Not to be confused with diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus is a condition characterized by excessive urination, sometimes as much as 16 quarts a day, and extreme thirst.
Adrenal Insufficiency - Adrenal insufficiency is a hormone disorder where the adrenal glands are unable to produce sufficient amounts of certain hormones. The main hormone affected is cortisol.
What Causes Pituitary Disorders?
The most common cause of diagnosed pituitary disorders is the presence of a pituitary tumor. Scientists do not know exactly why pituitary tumors develop, as there are no known lifestyle causes or environmental exposures associated with pituitary tumors. Fortunately, most pituitary tumors are benign (noncancerous).
Other causes of pituitary disorders can include:
- Taking certain prescription medications, such as medications for depression, high blood pressure, and heartburn
- Pregnancy and/or breastfeeding
- Some viral and bacterial infections, for example, tuberculosis
- Other tumors like meningioma and craniopharyngioma
- Autoimmune conditions
Symptoms of Pituitary Disorders
Symptoms vary depending on the disorder, but the most common symptoms experienced by individuals with pituitary disorders are:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Changes in mood, such as depression, irritability, and/or anxiety
- In men, erectile dysfunction
- In women, abnormal menstrual cycle
Diagnosing a Pituitary Disorder
Using a variety of diagnostic techniques, our multidisciplinary team of specialists communicates regularly in order to arrive at a precise diagnosis.
Hormone tests measure the amount of certain hormones in the body. Sometimes, these measurements may be taken before and after the patient is injected with a hormone in order to see how the body reacts. Hormone tests may include:
- Blood test
- Urine test
- Hormone stimulation or suppression tests
If a tumor is suspected, diagnostic imaging techniques, like MRI and CT scans, will be used. The images created by these tests allow doctors to locate the pituitary tumor, determine its size, and understand to what extent, if any, it has spread.
Treating Pituitary Disorders
Each pituitary diagnosis is unique and will, therefore, require a treatment plan tailored specifically to each individual. Providing personalized care in order to successfully treat a pituitary disorder requires a comprehensive approach from a team of specialists. At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we are dedicated to providing cutting-edge, personalized treatment at the forefront of pituitary care.
"The MedStar Pituitary Center brings together various subspecialists involved in the care of patients with pituitary disorders under one roof to be able to come up with a comprehensive, individualized treatment plan while making the experience more convenient for the patient." - Dr. Susmeeta Tewari Sharma, Director of Pituitary Endocrinology at the MedStar Pituitary Center
"[We provide] over 50 years of combined expertise in the Pituitary Center and [perform] more pituitary surgeries than any other hospital in the region." - Dr. Edward Fiore Aulisi, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery & Medical Director of the MedStar Neuroscience Intermediate Care Unit
Treatment for pituitary disorders may include one or a combination of the following:
Hormone therapy - Medication is often the first line of treatment for a pituitary disorder. The goal of medication treatment is to either replace hormones that are deficient or significantly reduce the amount of excess hormones.
Surgery - If a pituitary tumor is large in size and is causing complications such as vision loss, surgical intervention may be required in order to restore vision and prevent any further health complications.
Radiation - Radiation may be needed when the whole tumor or part of the tumor cannot be removed, due to its size and/or location.
MedStar Washington Hospital Center is the only multidisciplinary center of its kind in the Washington, DC, area to have neurosurgeons experienced with pituitary disorders, a pituitary endocrinologist, a neuro ophthalmologist, otolaryngology, office visits, diagnostic testing, and surgery - all in the same location.
Outlook and Prognosis for Individuals With Pituitary Disorders
Typically, when diagnosed and treated early, individuals with a pituitary disorder can live long, healthy lives. For some individuals, it may be necessary to continue hormone therapy medication as well as continue to follow-up with an endocrinologist indefinitely to ensure a healthy balance of hormones. In the case of a pituitary tumor, follow-up care is necessary to monitor for tumor recurrence.