The pituitary gland is small, legumed-shaped and positioned at the base of the brain. Sometimes, this gland experiences abnormal growth like pituitary tumors. These tumors, in turn, can cause an overproduction of hormones or in some cases, it can cause an underproduction of hormones.
Even though most pituitary tumors are benign, the drastic changes in hormones are important because this gland regulates important functions in the body like growth, blood pressure and reproduction. The absolute cause of these tumors is unknown, although some think that heredity is a key factor.
When a tumor starts to grow, there are a number of symptoms that may arise. It is important to note some symptoms are related to tumor pressure while other symptoms are caused by hormonal changes. The list of symptoms is as follows:
Symptoms related to tumor pressure:
Clear, watery nasal discharge
Nausea and vomiting
Symptoms of pituitary hormone deficiency
Low blood pressure
Body hair loss
Unintended weight loss or gain
Symptoms related to hormonal changes:
Coarsened facial features
Enlarged hands and feet
Excessive growth (in children)
High blood pressure
Decreased sex hormones
Irregular menstrual periods
Milky discharge from breasts (in women)
Enlarged breasts (in men)
Infertility (in men)
Decreased body hair (in men)
Loss of interest in sex (in men)
Tests and Diagnosis
Patients suspected of having trouble with their pituitary gland will more than likely be referred to an endocrinologist. This specialist will conduct several tests that may include: blood and urine tests, brain imaging, and vision testing. Radiation therapy is used to shrink some types of pituitary tumors. In many cases, it is used in conjunction with surgery, but in other cases, it is used when surgery cannot be performed.
Medications or drug therapy is also used to lower hormone production as well as tumor shrinkage. The last method for treatment is observation.