Pain from a pituitary tumor may be located in the center of your forehead or on one side. But pituitary tumors do not always cause pain, and most headaches have other causes.
Pituitary tumors in the brain can become symptomatic before they’re discovered, causing headaches and vision changes. When you have a tumor on your pituitary gland — a small gland on the underside of your brain — it can cause headaches on your forehead.
When there is bleeding into your pituitary tumor, a condition known as pituitary apoplexy, it can cause a sudden, severe headache in the center of your head. This can be an emergency situation requiring surgery.
But pituitary tumors can also be asymptomatic, meaning they cause no symptoms at all.
Learn more about pituitary tumor headaches, including what they feel like, how they compare to other types of headaches, and when to see your doctor about head pain.
A pituitary tumor headache can feel like an aching pain on one or both sides of the forehead. This can happen when the tumor affects your pituitary gland’s ability to produce and secrete hormones the way it’s supposed to.
Headaches can also occur if the tumor puts pressure on the pituitary gland and surrounding areas. If the tumor is pressing on any nearby nerves, it can also lead to pain in the face or sinuses.
However, not all pituitary tumors cause headache symptoms.
Pituitary apoplexy is when there’s bleeding or tissue death in the pituitary gland or surrounding area. Having a pituitary tumor increases this risk.
Pituitary apoplexy comes on quickly and causes symptoms such as:
- a severe headache that comes on quickly
- nausea and vomiting
- eye symptoms such as double vision, loss of peripheral vision, or an inability to move the eyes
- decreased consciousness, or being awake but not able to respond normally
Pituitary apoplexy is a medical emergency that requires immediate diagnosis and treatment.
In many cases, pituitary tumors do not cause symptoms. People who do have symptoms
Some people who develop pituitary tumors may also feel dizzy or pass out.
If the pituitary tumor grows larger, it can affect the gland’s ability to produce and secrete hormones. This can bring on symptoms that affect the entire body, such as:
Various types of tumors can affect the pituitary gland and nearby areas.
However, pituitary adenomas can still affect your health by:
- putting pressure on nearby nerves and parts of the brain
- invading the skull or sinuses
- excreting excess hormones
Pituitary carcinomas have a lot in common with adenomas. The main distinguishing factor is that only carcinomas spread to other parts of the body, often to the:
- spinal cord
- covering of the brain and spinal cord (meninges)
- nearby bone
Other types of tumors
Other types of tumors can grow in the area surrounding the pituitary gland. These include:
Pituitary tumors are not common. Only around
While headache can be a symptom of a pituitary tumor, headache pain is much more likely to be linked to another, more common cause.
Migraine is a common neurological condition that can bring on severe headache attacks. With migraine, severe headache pain is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- light sensitivity
- sound sensitivity
- visual disturbances (aura)
Migraine symptoms may improve after a few hours or persist for days.
An estimated 39 million U.S. people are affected by migraine, making it a much more likely source of headache pain than a pituitary tumor.
A sinus infection happens when the tissues that line your sinuses become swollen. This inflammation can bring on headache pain.
Approximately 31 million Americans experience sinus infections. Along with headache and facial pain, sinus infection symptoms include runny nose and nasal congestion.
A cluster headache is a type of severe headache that affects just one side of the head. It’s often accompanied by other symptoms such as watery eyes or a stuffy, runny nose.
It’s thought that up to 1 million people in the United States experience cluster headaches.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are a group of conditions that affect the jaw and chewing muscles.
TMJ can cause:
- pain and tenderness in the jaw from chewing
- clicking sounds when opening the jaw
- limitations in jaw movement
TMJ has also been linked to headaches. According to a research review in 2022, the relationship between TMJ and headaches is bidirectional. This means that having a headache condition or TMJ increases your likelihood of having the other. Headaches can occur due to TMJ, but headache pain can also make TMJ symptoms worse.
A pituitary tumor can be diagnosed with several tests, including:
- a physical exam
- vision testing
- blood tests to check hormone levels
- urine tests
- imaging tests, such as MRI
If you experience headaches and don’t know what’s causing them, or have any other concerns about your symptoms, contact a doctor.
You may need to undergo testing to rule out other causes of headache pain before discussing whether a pituitary tumor may be the culprit.
If a pituitary tumor is suspected, you may be referred to an endocrinologist. This doctor specializes in pituitary issues.
A headache that affects your forehead or face can be a sign of a pituitary tumor. However, most headaches likely have another, more common cause.
If you’re concerned about any headache pain you’re experiencing, talk with a doctor. They can discuss your symptoms and perform any tests to get to the root cause and determine the best steps to help you find relief.