Hypopituitarism is a disorder in which your body doesn’t make enough pituitary hormones. The pituitary gland is a small, bean-shaped gland at the base of your brain. It plays a role in controlling your body’s endocrine system, a group of glands that produce and secrete hormones to regulate your body’s processes.
In hypopituitarism, the pituitary gland fails to produce or doesn’t produce enough of one or more of its hormones. When your pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough hormones, your body functions are affected.
The pituitary gland is responsible for releasing:
The symptoms of hypopituitarism usually develop gradually, although it is possible for them to appear suddenly. Because the symptoms tend to progress over time, they are often overlooked for months or years.
Possible symptoms include:
Men may also experience:
Women may also experience:
Children may also experience:
If certain symptoms of hypopituitarism develop suddenly, such as a severe headache, visual problems, confusion, or a drop in blood pressure, you should see a doctor immediately. These symptoms could be a sign of sudden bleeding into the pituitary (called pituitary apoplexy), which is a serious condition.
Hypopituitarism is commonly caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland. A tumor can squeeze the pituitary gland as it grows, which can cause damage. A pituitary tumor can also put pressure on the optic nerves in the eyes and cause visual problems.
Other causes of hypopituitarism are:
Hypopituitarism can also be caused by diseases of the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain located just above the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus is responsible for producing hormones that help the pituitary gland function normally.
In other cases, the cause of hypopituitarism may be unknown.
If you have symptoms of hypopituitarism, your doctor may order blood tests to detect the levels of pituitary hormones in your blood. A computerized tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your brain can check for pituitary tumors or defects. Your doctor may do several vision tests to see if your sight is being affected. In children, X-rays can measure whether bones are growing normally.
Your doctor may also want you to see an endocrinologist or go to a special endocrine clinic for other tests. An endocrinologist is a doctor who studies the endocrine system.
Your doctor will treat the condition that is the cause of your hypopituitarism first. This can help restore your pituitary gland's ability to produce hormones.
If a tumor on your pituitary gland is causing your hypopituitarim, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove it or radiation therapy to shrink it.
If your body does not produce enough of one or more pituitary hormones after treating the underlying condition, your doctor may prescribe a hormone replacement medicine to add to your body’s hormone production.
Hormone replacement medicines include:
If you are taking hormone replacement medicine, your doctor may want to monitor the levels of hormones in your blood to make sure you’re getting the right amount of replacement hormones.
If you become very sick (such as with the flu) or go through a stressful time, your doctor may adjust the dose of replacement hormone you take to act the way a normally functioning pituitary gland would act in response to these situations. You might also need a dose adjustment if you become pregnant or have a significant change in weight.
You should carry a medical alert card and bracelet at all times so that emergency medical workers know what kind of care you need in case of emergency.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff