The Incredible Pituitary Gland

Ronald Lechan, MD, PhD is an endocrinologist at Tufts Medical Center.Dr. Ronald Lechan, Co-Director of the Hypothalamic and Pituitary Disease Center at Tufts MC, explains how the pituitary gland plays such a vital role in your body.

The pituitary is a master gland controlling thyroid function, adrenal function, ovarian and testicular function, growth, milk production and urine volume. Therefore, anything that affects pituitary function can have profound effects on the body, depending on which and how many hormones become deficient. 

If a pituitary tumor gets large enough, it can also result in neurologic problems including headaches, loss of vision, double vision, facial pain, and even seizures. 

If, instead, a pituitary tumor overproduces hormones controlling thyroid, adrenal, ovarian/testicular function, growth, or milk production, effects can be varied, and extreme. 
—the most common pituitary tumors—frequently manifest in women via milk production and/or lack of menstruation; and in men, via loss of libido due to low testosterone. Fortunately, prolactinomas typically respond to medicine and rarely require surgery.

A pituitary tumor causing Cushing’s disease ultimately elevates the stress hormone, cortisol, which leads to a variety of symptoms that include excessive weight gain, easy bruising, fatigue, diabetes, elevated blood pressure, osteoporosis and decreased fertility.

The hormonal disorder acromegaly results from excess growth hormone production from a pituitary tumor. These patients may experience profound and even disfiguring effects. Gigantism is seen in children and adolescents with too much growth hormone (the largest giant on record was 8’ 11” tall). In adults, it leads to increased tissue growth, organ enlargement, and disfigured facial features—large nose, lips, jaw, tongue; deeply furrowed forehead; increased spacing between teeth -, large hands and feet, increased sweating, in addition to a variety of systemic effects that affect blood pressure, blood fats and carbohydrate metabolism (potentially causing diabetes), and may be associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Diagnosing these conditions can be complicated. Make an appointment with one of our endocrinologists if you exhibit the preceding symptoms.