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Conditions We Treat: Pituitary Disorders

The pituitary gland is an endocrine gland located just off the hypothalamus at the base of the brain. Known as the “master gland,” it secretes hormones that regulate the functions of other glands (the thyroid, adrenal gland and testes or ovaries), as well as growth and several body functions. Overactivity and underactivity of the pituitary gland can cause a range of conditions, including those that affect sexual development, thyroid function, growth, skin pigmentation and adrenal function.

Except for some genetic syndromes that cause predisposition, there is no obvious cause for pituitary tumors. Some might be caused by stimulation from the hypothalamus, which signals the pituitary gland to make hormones.

Pituitary Disorders:  What You Need to Know

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Most pituitary tumors benign. However, because of the location of the pituitary gland, large pituitary tumors can press against the optic nerves, causing vision problems. In addition, pituitary tumors that produce excessive amounts of hormones overstimulate other endocrine glands and cause symptoms specific to the overproduced hormone.

The most common hormone produced by pituitary tumor is prolactin. Prolactin-producing tumors (“prolactinomas”) are more frequent in women. They can cause irregularity or loss of periods, infertility, and breast milk secretion. In men excessive prolactin can cause reduced libido and erectile dysfunction.

Acromegaly occurs when a pituitary tumor  produces excess growth hormones. Affecting mostly middle-aged adults, symptoms vary and can include diabetes and high blood pressure, swelling of hands and feet, coarsening of facial features and body hair, increasing perspiration and body odor, irregular menstrual cycles and breast milk production in women, and erectile dysfunction in men. More than 95 percent of acromegaly cases are caused by benign tumors on the pituitary gland.

Cushing disease occurs when a pituitary tumor produces excessive amount of a hormone called ACTH. This causes elevation of blood cortisol levels. It is more frequent in women. Symptoms include-among many others-weight gain with peculiar distribution (mostly mid-section), rounding of the face, depression, irregular periods, insomnia, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, easy bruising, and kidney stones.

Diabetes insipidus results from insufficient production of ADH, a hormone that helps the body conserve the correct amount of water. Diabetes insipidus is not related to the more common type of diabetes, diabetes mellitus, although some of the symptoms—excessive thirst, excessive urine production and dehydration—are similar.

Empty sella syndrome is characterized by an enlarged bony structure that houses the pituitary gland at the base of the brain; additional symptoms, although there may also be none, can include impotence, reduced sexual desire and irregular menstruation.

Hypopituitarism, also called an underactive pituitary gland, affects the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland, usually resulting in a partial or complete loss of functioning of that lobe. This can manifest with a variety of symptoms that relate to the lack of hormones produced by the target glands (adrenals, thyroid, and testes or ovaries).

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Why choose Johns Hopkins for treatment of pituitary disorders?


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Dr. Roberto Salvatori

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Lead by Dr. Roberto Salvatori, the Johns Hopkins Pituitary Tumor Center  is a world-class, multidisciplinary center of experts, diagnosing and treating all types of pituitary disorders, including pituitary tumors, adenomas, craniopharyngiomas, Rathke's cleft cysts and pituitary gland disorders.