Pituitary Disorders

The pituitary gland is sometimes called the “master gland” because it produces several different hormones that control the thyroid gland, the adrenal glands, the testes and the ovaries. The pituitary is also involved in the control of growth in children and in the regulation of thirst and water balance. The pituitary gland contains several different types of cells; each is specialized to control a separate pituitary function.

Pituitary tumors

Pituitary adenomas are benign tumors of the anterior pituitary that may produce excess hormones. Symptoms of pituitary adenomas depend on the type of pituitary cell in the tumor. Since the optic nerve runs close to the pituitary, a very large pituitary tumor can affect vision. At The GW Medical Faculty Associates, endocrinologists closely collaborate with neurosurgeons, neuroophthalmologists, and other specialists in the treatment of pituitary tumors.

Pituitary tumors and adenomas can have numerous side effects:

  • Cushing’s disease results from a pituitary adenoma that secretes the hormone ACTH, which directs the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol, the stress hormone. Symptoms of Cushing’s disease include unexplained weight gain, increases in blood sugar and blood pressure, unexplained bruising and profound decreases in energy. Surgery is typically required for the initial management of Cushing’s disease.
  • Acromegaly results from a pituitary tumor secreting excess growth hormone. Symptoms include increases in ring size, shoe size, tongue size and jaw prominence. We treat acromegaly with a combination of surgery and medication.
  • Prolactinomas are benign tumors that produce the hormone prolactin, which normally controls milk production in nursing mothers. Prolactinomas in women may be the cause of menstrual irregularities and milky secretions from the breasts. For men, a prolactinoma may decrease their, testosterone level, libido and fertility. Most prolactinomas can be treated with medication and do not require surgery.

We diagnose pituitary adenomas with blood tests to measure anterior pituitary hormones and an MRI to image the pituitary gland. Following initial surgery for a pituitary tumor, follow-up is generally required to assess postoperative pituitary function and to determine if additional treatment is required.