Conditions, Treatments & Diagnostics

About the Pituitary Gland

The pituitary gland is often called the master gland. It controls many body functions, including growth, metabolism, thyroid function, reproduction and the body's response to stress.

Pea-sized and reddish-gray, the pituitary gland is located in the center of the brain, just above the back of the nose. It is made up of three lobes, each of which produces different hormones. It is attached to the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that affects the pituitary) by nerve fibers.

It controls hormones that directly or indirectly affect most basic bodily activities. (The word hormone comes from Greek meaning to set in motion. A hormone is chemical messenger from one cell or collection of cells to another.)

The hormones controlled by the pituitary gland include:

  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal glands
  • Antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which increases absorption of water into the blood by the kidneys
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the ovaries in women and the testes in men
  • Growth hormone
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH), which stimulates the ovaries or testes
  • Melanocyte-stimulating hormone, which controls skin coloring
  • Oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract when a baby is being born and helps trigger milk production
  • Prolactin, which sets off milk production after giving birth
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which stimulates the thyroid gland

Disorders of the pituitary gland cause many different pituitary conditions with a wide variety of symptoms.

Other Rare Disorders

In addition, rarer disorders of the pituitary gland are also treated at the Cedars-Sinai Pituitary Center, including:

  • Empty sella syndrome, when pituitary tissue is destroyed with no evidence of a tumor or pituitary surgery or radiotherapy.
  • Familial multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1. Sometimes called Wermer syndrome, this condition affects the endocrine glands in men and women equally. It is caused by a defective gene that makes people more likely to develop tumors in the pituitary and other glands and the pancreas and parathyroid disease.
  • Kallmann's syndrome, which results in the people it affects failing to go through puberty unless they receive sex hormone replacement therapy. In addition, people with Kallmann's syndrome have no sense of smell.
  • Pituitary infarction, which is a loss of blood flow to the pituitary gland. It sometimes occurs because of an injury to the head. If the blood flow is cut off, the tissues of the gland can die causing hypopituitarism.
  • Rathke's cleft cysts, which are developmental abnormalities that happen before a child is born. The cysts develop in a part of the pituitary gland known as Rathke's pouch. Small Rathke's cleft cysts are not uncommon. Problems develop when the cysts grow and affect the pituitary gland or press on the optic chiasm.
  • Septo-optic dysplasia, which is a condition that affects both children and adults. It has three elements: 1) abnormal eye development, 2) abnormal development of the front part of the brain, and 3) abnormal pituitary gland development.
  • Sheehan's syndrome. During a normal pregnancy, the pituitary glad doubles in size. If a pregnant woman experiences a sudden drop in her blood pressure, a pituitary infarction can happen. This can lead to pan-hypopituitarism.
  • Wolfram syndrome. This is a group of conditions occurring at the same time: diabetes insipidus, diabetes mellitus, optic atrophy and deafness. It tends to run in families.
Diagnostics
  • Hormone testing
  • Pituitary MRIs
  • Provocative / Suppressive lab tests. These are tests that are designed to cause or prevent hormones from being secreted to help identify the cause of a pituitary disorder. These include glucose tolerance tests to help diagnose acromegaly, arginine infusion tests to help detect growth hormone deficiency and dexamenthasone suppression tests and inferior petrosal sinus sampling to help diagnose Cushing's disease.
  • Urinalysis. This involves collecting a sample of urine for chemical analysis. Because hormone levels naturally go up and down during the day and night, it may be necessary to do a 24-hour urine collection.
  • Neuro-opthalmological evaluation, including a visual field exam. This involves looking at a screen with flashing lights and pressing a button when you see one of the lights. The pattern of which flashing lights you can or can't see maps areas of your vision affected by the tumor.