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Planning Retirement Online

Problems with your pituitary gland

March 2011

pituitary glandUnless you know someone who has had a problem in this area, it is unlikely you will have given much attention to the pituitary gland. Yet this small oval shaped gland, situated at the base of our brain just below the optic nerve, can have far reaching effects on many areas of our health.

Currently it is thought there are just under 100,000 pituitary patients in the UK at the moment, but numbers are increasing, possibly partly due to improved knowledge about all aspects of the pituitary.

Despite its small size (about the size of a normal bean), the pituitary is often referred to as the master gland because of the control it has on many of our key glands in our body.

It is divided into two sections. The front section produces six hormones:

  • a growth hormone which controls growth
  • prolactine which is important in the production of breast milk
  • ACTH, a hormone which stimulates the activity of the adrenal glands
  • TSH which stimulates the production of hormones from the thyroid gland
  • FSH and LH which are important in the activities of the ovaries in women and testes in men

The back part of the pituitary gland produces:

  • ADH which controls the amount of urine produced by the kidneys
  • oxytocin which is involved in contracting the womb after childbirth and the production of breast milk

At our age, some of these hormones are clearly less vital, but adult pituitary disease can cause a gland to produce excess hormones as well as blocking hormone production, so the problems can indeed become very serious.

Adult pituitary disease is often caused by a benign growth on the gland. Nearly all tumours of the pituitary gland are benign and do not spread; they are sometimes referred to as adenomas. As you can imagine, a growth on the gland can effect it in many different ways and this can produce a number of identified problems, from acromegaly when the growth causes the pituitary gland to produce too much growth hormone to Cushing’s syndrome, which is characterised by a round face, weight gain, increased facial hair in women and mental changes such as depression.

A common problem caused by changes in the posterior gland (the back section) is diabetes insipidus which is different from normal diabetes. Pituitary apoplexy is another problem which results from a haemorrhage of the pituitary.

In fact, when your realize what an important part the pituitary gland plays in controlling so many of our natural functions, it is not surprising that when something occurs to affect its natural processes, this can result in a myriad of different problems. This in turn means that there is a wide range of symptoms that can in fact relate to a problem with the pituitary gland; symptoms such as headaches, vision problems, unexplained weight gain or loss of libido, dizzyness, feeling nauseous and even muscle wasting. The list just goes on.

The good news is that the medical profession is today very alert to the possibilities of problems from the pituitary gland. Diagnosis can sometimes be made from a simple blood test; or you may need a CT or MRI scan. Magnetic resonance imaging is also used sometimes and doctors can even find indication that a tumour is present on the pituitary gland through an eye test.

One problem associated with being diagnosed with a pituitary tumour or disorder is the amount of highly technical medical terminology that is associated with this problem. Luckily there is now a wealth of information about terms and names on line so that everything can easily be translated.

Treatment for people with pituitary disease usually requires life-long drug treatment and monitoring but there is excellent support available now. One good source of information is www.pituitary.org.uk. Also www.pituitarysociety.org is full of detailed information. 

 


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