Your pituitary gland is located on the underside of your brain. It releases hormones that play a role in your body’s function. Hypopituitarism is when the gland does not release enough of one or more of these hormones.

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Read on to learn more about an underactive pituitary gland or Hypopituitarism, what causes it, what symptoms it can cause, and how it’s diagnosed and treated.

The pituitary gland releases hormones that are responsible for various bodily functions. For example, it stimulates bone growth and prompts your thyroid gland to release hormones that control your metabolism.

Sometimes, for various reasons, your pituitary gland may not produce enough of one or more of these hormones. This is known as hypopituitarism.

These hormones are:

  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH): This hormone triggers cortisol production and the chemical reaction that makes your body produce adrenaline and noradrenaline.
  • Antidiuretic hormone (ADH): This hormone controls your blood pressure and conserves the fluids in your body.
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH): This hormone stimulates the growth of ovarian follicles in females and sperm production in males.
  • Growth hormone (GH): This hormone makes children grow and maintains body structure and metabolism in adults.
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH): This hormone is responsible for fertility, puberty, and menstruation in females. It is also responsible for the production of testosterone in males.
  • Oxytocin: This hormone is important in childbirth and lactation. It may also play a large role in human behavior.
  • Prolactin (PRL): This hormone stimulates milk production in females after birth but has many other functions.
  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH): This hormone regulates the production of hormones in the thyroid.

Are sex and gender the same thing?

People often use the terms sex and gender interchangeably, but they have different meanings:

  • “Sex” refers to the physical characteristics that differentiate male, female, and intersex bodies.
  • “Gender” refers to a person’s identity and feelings. Examples include man, woman, nonbinary, agender, bigender, genderfluid, pangender, and trans. A person’s gender identity may differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.
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The symptoms of hypopituitarism depend on which hormones your pituitary gland is not producing enough of. For example, a growth hormone deficiency (GHD) can cause permanently short stature.

If it doesn’t produce enough follicle-stimulating or luteinizing hormone, it might cause problems with sexual function, menstruation, and fertility. This is known as hypogonadism.

Other conditions that can result from hypopituitarism include:

  • Adrenal insufficiency: This is a deficiency in ACTH. A person may experience fatigue, mood changes, problems with their menstrual cycle or digestion, low appetite, weight loss, and more.
  • Hypothyroidism(underactive thyroid): This is a deficiency in TSH. A person can experience muscle weakness, joint pain, weight gain, depression, high cholesterol, memory problems, and more.
  • Diabetes insipidus: This condition is associated with a deficiency in ADH. A person may experience excessive thirst, dehydration, fever, delayed growth, excessive urination, irritability, and more.

Trauma may cause your pituitary gland to stop producing enough of one or more of its hormones. For example, brain surgery, brain infection, or head injury can affect your pituitary gland.

Certain tumors can also affect the function of this gland. These include:

Some other possible causes of hypopituitarism include:

  • Sarcoidosis: This is a chronic lung disease.
  • Hemochromatosis: This is a hereditary disease characterized by too much iron in the body.
  • Histiocytosis X: This is a rare autoimmune disorder in which immune cells attack the organs.
  • Tuberculosis: This is an infectious lung disease.
  • Lymphocytic hypophysitis: This is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of the pituitary gland.
  • Sheehan syndrome: This is blood loss during childbirth.
  • Radiation: This is a type of cancer treatment.
  • Traumatic brain injury: This may cause hypopituitarism in newborns, infants, and children.

There may also be other causes of hypopituitarism. And in some cases of hypopituitarism, the cause may be unknown.

This condition is best managed by an endocrinologist. There is no single course of treatment because this condition may affect several hormones. In general, the goal of treatment is to bring all your hormone levels back to a healthy level.

The specific treatment will depend on the specific hormone affected. This may involve taking medications to replace the hormones your pituitary gland is not producing properly.

In this case, your doctor will need to check your hormone levels regularly. This allows your doctor to adjust the medications you’re taking to ensure you’re getting the correct dose.

If a tumor is causing your pituitary problems, surgery to remove the tumor may restore your hormone production to a healthy level.

If your doctor thinks you may have hypopituitarism, they will use a blood test to check your levels of the hormones the pituitary gland produces. They may also check for hormones your pituitary gland stimulates other glands to release.

For example, your doctor may check your T4 levels. Your pituitary gland doesn’t produce this hormone, but it releases TSH, which stimulates your thyroid gland to release T4. Having low levels of T4 indicates you may have a problem with your pituitary gland.

Your doctor may prescribe specific medications before doing blood tests. These medications will stimulate your body’s production of specific hormones. Taking them before the test can help your doctor better understand your pituitary gland function.

Once your doctor determines which hormone levels are low, they must check the parts of your body (target organs) those hormones affect. Sometimes, the problem isn’t with your pituitary gland but rather with the target organs.

Your doctor may perform imaging tests, such as a CT or MRI scan on your brain. These tests can help your doctor figure out if a tumor on your pituitary gland is affecting its function.

Your pituitary controls many bodily functions through the hormones it releases. When it does not release enough of one or more of these hormones, you develop hypopituitarism. This can be caused by many things, and the symptoms and treatment will vary depending on the affected hormone.

If you experience any symptoms that could be indicative of hypopituitarism, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor and dome some testing to determine the correct cause and the right treatment.