- The pituitary gland manages and regulates many hormones of the endocrine system.
- Hormones affect many of our bodily functions—from our height and weight to our metabolism and energy level.
- There are many different types of pituitary disorders–each with its own set of symptoms.
- Treating and managing pituitary disorders calls for a collaborative approach to care, and can include specialists from endocrinology, neurosurgery, otolaryngology, neuro-ophthalmology and radiation oncology among others.
[4 MIN READ]
The pituitary gland is a small but mighty gland that’s responsible for producing and regulating many of your bodily functions, though chances are you aren’t really sure what the pituitary gland is, what it does or even where it’s located.
“Your pituitary gland can affect your body in different ways,” shares Jessica Brzana, M.D., an endocrinologist at Swedish Pituitary Center. “In fact, you may not even be aware that the cause of some health issues like headaches, irregular periods and mood swings–could be your pituitary gland. Learning about this gland is an important way to keep you informed about how your body works and keep an eye on your health.”
You may not even be aware that the cause of some health issues like headaches, irregular periods and mood swings–could be your pituitary gland.
Here, Dr. Brzana offers insight on all things pituitary–the gland’s function, symptoms that may indicate an issue and common treatments that can effectively manage pituitary disorders.
The master gland
The pituitary is a pea-sized gland that is attached to the base of your brain. It’s located behind your nose and between your ears. The pituitary gland is responsible for producing hormones and instructing other glands in the endocrine system to make hormones. Each of these hormones is responsible for serving a wide range of functions. In fact, this gland is so important that it’s often called the “Master Gland.”
Among the hormones that are produced and regulated by the pituitary:
- Prolactin, which stimulates breast milk production after childbirth and helps regulate many other bodily functions, from behavior to menstrual cycles, immune systems, metabolism and much more.
- Growth hormone (GH), which helps stimulate growth in children and supports metabolism, bone strength and muscle strength in adults.
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which triggers the production of cortisol by the adrenal glands (another part of the endocrine system). Cortisol, often referred to as the body’s alarm system, is our main stress hormone. It also helps maintain blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) triggers the thyroid to produce hormones that regulate your metabolism, energy, growth and nervous system.
- Gonadotropins is a group of several hormones that promote normal function of the ovaries and testes. They include luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH), which together encourage sperm and testosterone function in male bodies, and estrogen production and ovulation in female bodies.
- Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) helps regulate water and sodium in the body, ensuring you don’t become dehydrated.
- Oxytocin helps release milk during breastfeeding and can also help labor progress.
Advances in medicine, diagnostic tools and even imaging are identifying more conditions and, helping more people find relief. Individuals with pituitary disorders can experience a wide range of symptoms, which can vary from individual to individual.
The pituitary gland is responsible for many different functions in the body, so it makes sense that hormone imbalances can trigger varying symptoms.
“The pituitary gland is responsible for many different functions in the body, so it makes sense that hormone imbalances can trigger varying symptoms,” explains Dr. Brzana. “Pituitary disorders can impact every aspect of life, too. It can affect your energy levels, kidney function, sex hormones, fertility and so much more.”
“It’s just one more reason to see a pituitary specialist if your doctor suspects a problem with your pituitary gland,” she adds.
Most conditions can be treated effectively with medication, surgery and other therapies. The team at the Swedish Pituitary Center diagnose and treat the full spectrum of pituitary conditions.
Here, Dr. Brzana shares some of the most common pituitary disorders she and her team treat.
Incidental pituitary growths
Advances in imaging technology, such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are detecting more pituitary growths than ever before. Many of these growths are what Dr. Brzana calls “incidental findings or incidentalomas,” meaning they were found during imaging/testing for something else in the brain.
“A patient will have an imaging test for another condition and their doctor will see a small growth in the gland. Their doctor, understandably, wants us to take a look,” shares Dr. Brzana.
“A patient will have an imaging test for another condition and their doctor will see a small growth in the gland. Their doctor, understandably, wants us to take a look,” shares Dr. Brzana. “Many of us are probably walking around with these incidental growths but, fortunately, nothing needs to be done with them. We usually just provide education and reassurance to the patient.”
Adenomas are a type of benign tumor that can be found in the pituitary gland. These tumors are found in the front part of the pituitary gland and in rare cases may secrete (produce) hormones such as growth hormone (GH), thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), luteinizing hormone (LH) or follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). These tumors then put more of its hormone in your body than you need, which can create a wide range of symptoms based on your tumor.
A prolactinoma is one of the most common pituitary tumors Dr. Brzana treats. These benign tumors trigger the pituitary to create too much prolactin, the hormone that stimulates breast milk production. This can cause hyperprolactinemia (too much prolactin in the blood). Prolactinomas are generally managed with medication and, sometimes, surgery. Symptoms of a prolactinoma can vary widely, so they can be difficult to diagnose. People can also experience different symptoms. An experienced endocrinologist can help guide you to a diagnosis.
Pituitary hormone deficiency
Pituitary disorders either cause the pituitary to make too much or too little of a hormone. Any symptoms will depend on what specific hormone is affected. For example, if your pituitary gland isn’t making enough ACTH, you may develop a type of adrenal insufficiency. Growth hormone deficiency is most symptomatic in children and results in poor growth. Your endocrinologist will run diagnostic tests (typically starting with a blood test) to determine what hormone deficiencies are causing your symptoms. Then, they’ll work closely with you and other needed specialists to create a treatment plan that addresses your symptoms and helps you feel better.
Helping you understand your care plan
The pituitary gland is responsible for so many different hormones and body functions, it can be difficult to keep all the information straight. That’s where an endocrinologist experienced in diagnosing and treating pituitary disorders can help. And it’s why a collaborative approach to care is key in helping you feel like yourself again. At the Swedish Pituitary Center, Dr. Brzana works alongside neurosurgeons, otolaryngologists (ENTs) neuro-ophthalmologists and radiation oncologists, among others.
“We really try to make it easy and convenient for our patients,” reassures Dr. Brzana. “We work to schedule ... all the specialists that may need to be involved in your care all in the same day."
“We really try to make it easy and convenient for our patients,” reassures Dr. Brzana. “We work to schedule blood tests, imaging and appointments with all the specialists that may need to be involved in your care all in the same day."
“Some patients may need only initial testing and assessment, which we also work to streamline. At the same time, we provide the education and support patients need,” she adds.
Dr. Brzana and her team understand how overwhelming it can be to learn you have any medical condition, particularly one you weren’t aware of before your diagnosis.
“There is so much we can do to treat and manage pituitary disorders,” she reassures. “We really take the time to make sure you understand your diagnosis and are comfortable with your treatments. Most importantly, we want to be sure you feel confident that, together, we can find answers and get you feeling like yourself again.”
It was that dedication and experience that enabled Dr. Brzana and her team to support one patient with a rare pituitary disorder.
“We recently had a patient who had a very perplexing adenoma that overproduced thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), but we were able to pinpoint that her symptoms were coming from her pituitary gland – not her thyroid gland as originally thought,” shares Dr. Brzana. “We were able to get her hormones stabilized before surgery with medication, and surgery helped her reach full remission.”
“It’s just so exciting what we are able to do and how much we can help our patients,” she says.
Find a doctor
If you’re concerned you may have a pituitary disorder, talk to your primary doctor. They can assess your symptoms, recommend additional testing or refer you to the Swedish Pituitary Center for experienced and advanced care.
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a physician, caregiver or advanced care practitioner, you can use our provider directory.
Find out the latest updates on how we’re handling COVID-19.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.