The pituitary gland is an oval-shaped organ of the endocrine system, which releases the hormones directly into the bloodstream rather than circulating with the help of ducts. Also referred to as hypophysis or master gland, it is located at the base of the brain. Pituitary gland resembles a pea in size and weighs about 0.5 gram. Functionally, it is indirectly responsible for maintaining homeostasis. It secretes several hormones essential for metabolic processes (growth, reproduction) and also, activates other glands for hormone production.
The hormones produced by the pituitary gland include growth hormone (GH), prolactin, adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), antidiuretic hormone (ADH), Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH). Overall, this gland is essential for the normal functioning of the human body. However, like any other organ system, the pituitary gland is susceptible to certain disorders, in which the most common problem is tumor growth or adenoma.
Pituitary adenoma is commonly observed in young and middle-aged adults. Over here, the cells of the pituitary gland show an abnormal growth, resulting in adenoma. It is a benign disorder, meaning the tumor does not spread to other organs. The actual causes of a pituitary gland tumor are still not known. Medical research opines that both hereditary and environmental factors play a role in it causes.
Pituitary adenoma may affect the body metabolism in three different ways, namely, hypersecretion, hyposecretion and tumor mass effects. In hypersecretion (also known as secretory pituitary gland tumor), the pituitary hormones are secreted more than the normal amount; whereas in case of hyposecretion (also known as non-secretory pituitary gland tumor), there is an insufficient production of pituitary hormones. Both these pituitary disorders may result in hormonal imbalance.
Symptoms of Pituitary Adenoma
The symptoms of a pituitary gland tumor are directly related to the abnormal secretion of pituitary hormones. Pituitary adenoma is further categorized into different types depending upon the type of hormone(s) that is getting affected. For example; GH secreting tumor, prolactin-secreting tumor, and ACTH secreting tumor.
★ The symptoms of pituitary adenoma observed only in females are nipple discharge, irregular menstruation or stopping of menstruation and excessive growth of hair in the body.
★ In males, the symptoms include breast development, decrease in body hair and impotence.
★ Last but not the least, tumor mass effect is caused due to the enlargement of the pituitary gland, which in turn, exerts pressure in the adjacent areas. Most commonly manifested tumor pressure symptoms are headache, watery nasal drainage, facial pain, skin changes, dizziness, constipation, diarrhea, temperature intolerance, body hair loss, increased fatigue, seizure, weight gain, weight loss, sexual disorders, low blood pressure, vision problem and at times, vision loss.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Pituitary Adenoma
A pituitary gland tumor is diagnosed by performing imaging tests - computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. An enlarged or shrunk pituitary gland can be observed in case of tumor growth. If the tumor is less than 10 mm in diameter, it is identified as microadenoma; whereas macroadenoma is confirmed if the tumor diameter is more than 10 mm. Blood tests are usually conducted in order to check the levels of pituitary hormones. Based on the manifested symptoms, the physician may conduct further investigations to identify a specific pituitary hormone.
The treatment depends upon the type of hormone that is affected, severity of the symptoms, age and the overall health of the patient. A surgical removal of the tumor is often recommended along with medications for effective management of the symptoms. Surgery may be performed in the nose, sinus, or skull portion to remove the tumor without affecting the adjacent areas.