At the base of the brain is the pituitary gland, which controls the entire endocrine system of the human body. While it is approximately the size of a pea, pituitary gland problems can affect almost every part of the body. There are many different types of pituitary gland problems that can occur from birth to old age. The most common include noncancerous tumors, Cushing's syndrome and growth hormone deficiencies.
Tumors on the pituitary gland, called pituitary adenomas, are typically noncancerous. They can, however, significantly increase or decrease the amount of hormones the pituitary gland produces, causing a host of medical issues. The most common symptoms of these problems are weakness, low blood pressure, hair loss and a rapid increase or decrease in weight. It can also result in loss of vision as well as severe headaches. Depending on the location and size of the tumor, treatment can range from surgery or radiation for removal to medication to inhibit the growth of the tumor. During treatment, medication is often prescribed to either increase or decrease hormone levels in order to bring the body back into balance and alleviate many of the symptoms.
Cushing's syndrome occurs when the body is exposed to significantly high amounts of the hormone cortisol for an extended period. This can happen as a result of a pituitary adenoma or develop when corticosteroid medications are taken for an extended amount of time. Common symptoms include having an unusually round face, the sudden and seemingly unwarranted appearance of stretch marks, as well as a visible deposit of fat between the shoulder blades. In some cases, Cushing's syndrome can also cause high blood pressure, diabetes, bone loss and excessive bruising. Treatment for this syndrome depends on its cause: Cushing's syndrome due to an adenoma is treated with radiation, surgery or medication, while Cushing's syndrome due to corticosteroid medication is treated by stopping the medication and treating the remaining symptoms.
Another of the common pituitary gland problems is a growth hormone deficiency. This takes place when the pituitary gland does not produce enough of the hormones the body needs to grow. While this disorder is rare, it is most common from birth, though it can occur in adults. When caught early enough, especially in children, a growth hormone deficiency can sometimes be treated with hormone replacement therapy.
While this treatment is not effective for everyone, it has been proven to help many with these types of pituitary gland problems to reach a relatively normal level of growth by adulthood. If treatment does not work, or is not given, a growth hormone deficiency can result in a smaller than usual height and can sometimes delay puberty if not prevent it all together. In certain cases, problems can be effectively treated without significant damage to one’s health. Despite this, pituitary gland problems are serious and need to be addressed as quickly as possible.