Hypopituitarism is a rare disorder in which your pituitary gland either fails to produce one or more of its hormones or doesn't produce enough of them.
The pituitary is a small bean-shaped gland situated at the base of your brain, behind your nose and between your ears. Despite its size, this gland secretes hormones that influence nearly every part of your body.
In hypopituitarism, you have a short supply of one or more of these pituitary hormones. This deficiency can affect any number of your body's routine functions, such as growth, blood pressure and reproduction.
You'll likely need medications for the rest of your life to treat hypopituitarism, but your symptoms can be controlled.
Hypopituitarism is often progressive. Although the signs and symptoms can occur suddenly, they more often develop gradually. They are sometimes subtle and may be overlooked for months or even years.
Signs and symptoms of hypopituitarism vary, depending on which pituitary hormones are deficient and how severe the deficiency is. They may include:
When to see a doctor
Also, if certain signs or symptoms of hypopituitarism develop suddenly — a severe headache, visual disturbances, confusion or a drop in blood pressure — contact your doctor immediately. Such signs and symptoms could represent sudden bleeding into the pituitary gland (pituitary apoplexy), which requires prompt medical attention.
The pituitary gland is part of your endocrine system, which consists of glands that produce hormones that regulate processes throughout your body. The hormones secreted by the pituitary gland help regulate important functions, such as growth, blood pressure and reproduction. For example, the pituitary secretes:
Hypopituitarism is frequently triggered by a tumor of the pituitary gland. As a pituitary tumor increases in size, it can compress and damage pituitary tissue, interfering with hormone production. A tumor can also compress the optic nerves, causing visual disturbances.
The cause of hypopituitarism can also be other diseases and events that damage the pituitary, such as:
Diseases of the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain situated just above the pituitary, also can cause hypopituitarism. The hypothalamus produces hormones of its own that directly affect the activity of the pituitary.
In some cases, the cause of hypopituitarism is unknown.
Pituitary gland and hypothalamus
The pituitary gland and the hypothalamus are situated within the brain and control hormone production. ...
The endocrine system includes the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pancreas, ovaries (in females) and testicles (in men). ...
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases, when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a specialist called an endocrinologist.
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment.
What you can do
Create a list of questions ahead of your appointment so that you can make the most of your time with your doctor. For hypopituitarism, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask any questions you have during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
If your doctor suspects a pituitary disorder, he or she will likely order several tests to check levels of various hormones in your body. Your doctor may also want to check for hypopituitarism if you've had a recent head injury that might have put you at risk of damage to your pituitary gland.
Tests your doctor may order include:
Treatments and drugs
Successful treatment of the underlying condition causing hypopituitarism may lead to a complete or partial recovery of your body's normal production of pituitary hormones. The usual treatment for pituitary tumors is surgery to remove the growth. In some instances, doctors also recommend radiation treatment.
If hormone deficiencies persist after treatment, then you'll need prescriptions of one or more hormone replacement medications. These drugs are considered as "replacement" rather than treatment, because the dosages are set to match the amounts that your body would normally manufacture if it didn't have a pituitary problem. Treatment is usually lifelong.
Hormone replacement medications may include:
If you've become infertile, preparations containing LH and FSH, also called gonadotropins, can be administered by injection to stimulate ovulation in women and sperm production in men.
Monitoring and adjusting
Your doctor will advise you to adjust your dosage of corticosteroids if you become seriously ill or experience major physical stress. During these times, your body would ordinarily produce extra cortisol hormone. The same kind of fine-tuning of dosage may be necessary when you have the flu, experience diarrhea or vomiting, or have surgery or dental procedures. Adjustments in dosage may also be necessary during pregnancy or with marked changes in weight. You may need periodic CT or MRI scans as well to monitor a pituitary tumor or other diseases causing the hypopituitarism.
In case of emergency
Last Updated: 2010-10-02
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