The pituitary gland is a small endocrine gland of about the size of a pea, but the hormones secreted by this gland regulate the functions of many other endocrine glands. This is reason why it is termed as the master endocrine gland. It is located just at the base of the brain. The development of a tumor or adenoma in the gland can adversely affect several functions of the body, and produce a number of symptoms.
The symptoms of this condition depend on the type of tumor, i.e., whether the tumor is functioning or non-functioning. The majority of pituitary tumors are benign or non-cancerous. The small tumors are called microadenomas, while those measuring 19 millimeters or larger are known as macroadenomas. Rarely, pituitary tumors have been observed to run in families. A family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (MEN I), can also raise the risk of developing tumors in this endocrine gland.
Signs and Symptoms
Pituitary tumors are more common in adults, though sometimes they can occur in children as well. The symptoms produced by this condition can vary to a great extent, depending on whether the tumor is functioning or non-functioning. Functioning tumors are the ones that produce hormones, while non-functioning tumors are those that do not produce hormones.
The signs and symptoms produced by a functioning tumor can be quite different from the symptoms that a large and non-functioning tumor can produce. The tumors that are non-functioning, but large enough to compress the surrounding nerves and blood vessels can produce the following signs and symptoms:
- Vision problems
- Fatigue and weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss or gain
- Cold intolerance
- Low blood pressure
- Sexual dysfunction
The functioning tumors, on the other hand, can cause hormonal imbalance. The development of functioning tumors in the pituitary gland can lead to an overproduction of hormones, like the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), growth hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and prolactin. The symptoms associated with a tumor that produces human growth hormone can be different in adults and children.
In children and adolescents, such a tumor can cause gigantism. But in adults, it can cause acromegaly, along with producing the following signs and symptoms:
- Coarse facial features
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- High blood sugar
- Excessive perspiration
- Sleep apnea
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
A tumor that produces an excess of ACTH hormone can stimulate the adrenal glands to make more cortisol hormone, which can eventually lead to Cushing's syndrome. The most common symptoms that can be produced by such a tumor are:
- Accumulation of fat in the middle portion of the body
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Easy bruising and stretch marks
- Brittle bones and thinning of the skin
- Muscle weakness
The symptoms of a pituitary adenoma that produces the hormone prolactin, can be different in men and women. The symptoms of a prolactin-producing pituitary adenoma in men are:
- Gynecomastia or the enlargement of the breasts
- Infertility and erectile dysfunction
- Decrease in body hair
The symptoms that a prolactin-producing adenoma can produce in women are:
- Menstrual irregularities
- Amenorrhea or the absence of menstrual period
- Milky discharge from the breasts
- Vaginal dryness
On the other hand, the tumors that produce an excess of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) can cause hyperthyroidism. This in turn, can cause:
- Rapid and irregular heartbeat
- Sudden loss of weight
- Excessive sweating
- Frequent bowel movements
The common treatment options available for pituitary tumors are, radiation therapy, medications, and surgery. Surgery is usually opted for a large tumor that presses against the optic nerves. Surgery is also used for a functioning tumor that produces hormones. Radiation therapy, on the other hand, employs high energy X-rays, in order to shrink or destroy the tumor. Medications like, bromocriptine, somatostatin analogs, and octreotide can also prove helpful in shrinking the tumor, and preventing the over-secretion of hormones.
To ensure the prompt treatment of such tumors, it is important to consult a physician on observing any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.