The pituitary gland is an endocrine gland located at the base of the brain, as a pea-sized protrusion. This gland secretes hormones that are vital for several bodily functions, like thyroid gland functioning, absorption of water into the kidneys, production of breast milk, regulation of temperature, and functions of the sex organs. Tumors are among the most common pituitary gland disorders.
Studies show that around 20% of humans develop pituitary tumors, and most of these tumors are found to be non-cancerous. Some people do not develop any symptom, and the condition may remain undetected during their entire lifetime. However, others may develop symptoms that can vary as per the size and location of the tumor.
Pituitary Tumor Types
Basically, pituitary gland tumors are classified as cancerous and non-cancerous. Non-cancerous tumors are called adenomas, which are further classified according to their size. Tumors that are less than 10 millimeters in size are microadenomas, and larger ones are called macroadenomas. Cancerous tumors are called carcinomas.
Pituitary adenomas are further divided into functioning and non functioning ones. Functional pituitary adenomas produce pituitary hormones, and the non-functional ones do not produce hormones. Functional ones are categorized as per the type of hormone produced. The most common among functional pituitary adenomas are prolactinoma or prolactin-producing tumors. Others include adenomas that produce growth hormones, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), or thyroid hormones.
Symptoms of Pituitary Tumor
A macroadenoma (a large, non-cancerous tumor) can exert pressure on the nearby areas, causing symptoms, like weakness, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, headache, complete or partial vision loss or vision problems, constipation, weight loss or weight gain, and sexual dysfunction.
In case of prolactinoma, the symptoms are caused by the high levels of hormone prolactin. In this case, pituitary tumor symptoms in women include irregular or no periods, change in menstrual flow, infertility, vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, and milky discharge from the breasts. Symptoms in men are impotence, erectile dysfunction, enlargement of breasts, decrease in body hair, and loss of sexual desire. Both genders may show signs of vision problems and headaches.
In some cases, the pituitary tumor may produce high levels of thyroid stimulating hormone, causing hyperthyroidism. This causes symptoms, like rapid heartbeat, nervousness, excess consumption of food, excessive sweating, sudden weight loss, irritability, heat sensitivity, and frequent bowel movements. These symptoms are caused by pituitary adenomas that produce thyroid hormone.
If the tumor of the pituitary is ACTH-producing adenoma, the symptoms can be weight gain characterized by fat accumulation on the lower back and mid section. The affected person may also experience skin problems, like acne and stretch marks, excessive hair growth, muscle weakness, diabetes, retardation of growth, osteoporosis, and irritability. In this case, the symptoms may include reduced sexual desire, menstrual disorders in women, and impotence in men. These symptoms are caused by excess levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone produced by the tumor; and this hormone stimulates production of the hormone cortisol in excess amounts, thereby causing Cushing's syndrome, that results in these symptoms.
Another type of functional pituitary adenoma is growth hormone producing adenoma that can cause impotence, carpal tunnel syndrome, and sleep apnea. In case of young children with this condition, excessive growth can happen. Pituitary tumor symptoms in children differ in those who have gone through puberty. In such children, the bones may have stopped growing, and so the excess growth hormones cause enlargement of hands, feet, lips, and nose, and this condition is termed acromegaly. Apart from the acromegaly symptoms, the patient may also develop high blood pressure and heart problems.
In case of non-functioning adenomas, the person may experience headache and vision problems. If these tumors are large, and affect the functioning area of the pituitary gland, such conditions may cause symptoms that depend on the location that is affected. The diagnosis of pituitary gland tumors are done with blood and urine tests to detect the level of hormones. Brain imaging and vision tests are also conducted to diagnose the condition. Treatment for this condition includes surgical removal of the tumors or radiation therapy to destroy the same. Even medicines play a vital role in treating this condition. In some patients, watchful waiting without treatment is considered more beneficial.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.