Conditions that affect the pituitary gland include acromegaly and gigantism, Cushing and empty sella syndromes, prolactinoma, and more.

Noncancerous tumors most often cause conditions that affect your pituitary gland. These tumors rarely cause health concerns but can be serious.

Your pituitary gland is a pea-sized gland in the brain. It releases several vital hormones to control many important bodily functions.

The pituitary gland is part of your endocrine system. Pituitary tumors cause most conditions that affect this gland. Most often, these tumors are noncancerous (benign).

This article covers pituitary gland conditions and their treatments.

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Pituitary gland. Design by Paul Lawrence.

Let’s discuss pituitary diseases in more detail.

Acromegaly and gigantism

Acromegaly and gigantism both result from too much growth hormone in your system. Gigantism affects children and causes increased height. Acromegaly affects adults and causes enlarged bones in the hands, feet, and face.

These conditions are rare. Acromegaly affects 50 to 70 people out of 1 million. Gigantism is even more rare. Acromegaly and gigantism are typically treatable with surgery, hormonal injections, or radiation.

Cushing syndrome

Cushing syndrome happens when you have increased levels of the hormone cortisol in your system. It occurs in 40 to 70 people out of 1 million. The most common symptoms of this condition are unintentional weight gain, increased bruising, and fatigue.

Treatment options for Cushing syndrome include medications that decrease cortisol levels and surgery.


Prolactinoma is a benign pituitary tumor that makes the hormone prolactin. Too much of this hormone causes a condition called hyperprolactinemia. Prolactinoma is rare. It affects less than 30 out of 100,000 people, mostly younger women. This condition can cause infertility and other conditions that affect the reproductive system.

Small prolactinomas usually don’t need treatment. Medications and surgery can effectively relieve symptoms for larger and more bothersome tumors.

Empty sella syndrome

Empty sella syndrome affects the part of your skull that holds the pituitary gland. Although experts typically consider it rare, a small 2021 research review found that up to 8% of people might have this condition. The main symptoms of empty sella syndrome are headaches and high blood pressure.

Empty sella syndrome usually doesn’t require treatment unless it causes symptoms. In this case, you might need pain relief medications or surgery.


Hypopituitarism is a rare condition, also known as an underactive pituitary gland. It occurs when your pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. Symptoms of hypopituitarism depend on which hormones the condition affects. For example, it can cause a short stature or fertility health concerns.

Treatment usually involves taking medications to supplement insufficient hormone production.

Diabetes insipidus

Diabetes insipidus happens when your kidneys can’t conserve water. Low levels of antidiuretic hormone causes it. Diabetes insipidus affects around 1 in 25,000 people. The main symptoms of this condition are excessive thirst and increased urine output.

Treatment of diabetes insipidus depends on the severity. In mild cases, you may not need treatment. In other cases, your doctor may prescribe you hormonal therapy or other medications.

Sheehan syndrome

Sheehan syndrome occurs when there’s damage to a birthing parent’s pituitary gland during childbirth. Blood loss or extremely low blood pressure during or after labor causes it. It’s rare in the United States, but it’s more common in developing countries. Symptoms include difficulty breastfeeding and irregular menstrual periods, among others.

Treatment typically includes medications, like corticosteroids, and hormonal therapies.

Pituitary apoplexy

Pituitary apoplexy happens when you have bleeding or blood loss in your pituitary gland from a benign tumor called a pituitary adenoma. It can affect up to 25% of people with these tumors. The most common symptoms are severe headaches and blurry vision.

Treatments for pituitary apoplexy include medications, like corticosteroids, and surgery.

Rathke cleft cyst

This is a benign pituitary gland tumor. It’s similar to pituitary adenoma but is congenital (present at birth). It’s quite common but rarely causes any symptoms, so most people don’t know that they have this condition. Symptoms may include vision disturbances and frequent headaches.

Only bothersome Rathke cleft cysts require treatment, which is usually endoscopic surgery.


Craniopharyngioma is a benign, slow-growing tumor. Each year, less than 2 people out of 1 million (usually children) receive the diagnosis of this condition. It can affect a child’s growth and development. Vision difficulties can happen in both children and adults.

Brain surgery is the most common way to treat this condition.

Pituitary cancer

Most pituitary gland tumors are benign. But in rare cases, pituitary cancer, can also occur. There are several types of this condition, each producing a specific hormone. Symptoms depend on the type but may include high blood pressure and excessive sweating.

Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, or hormonal therapy.


This condition causes inflammation in your pituitary gland. It’s extremely rare. Symptoms include vision changes and headaches.

Not everyone needs treatment for hypophysitis. But if your symptoms are bothersome, a doctor may recommend immunosuppressant drugs or — in a particularly severe case — surgery.

Pituitary gland diseases affect all genders and can happen at any age. But they are more common in older adults. Most of the people who develop one of these conditions don’t have a family history of them. But rarely, certain pituitary tumors run in families.

Tumors are the most common type of pituitary disease. Each year, more than 10,000 people in the U.S. receive a diagnosis of this condition.

However, the actual number of people living with pituitary diseases is much higher. This is because most of them don’t cause any health concerns.

Doctors typically discover pituitary conditions while performing imaging tests (like head MRIs). To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor will perform a few specialized tests, for example dynamic endocrine testing.

Be sure to speak with a doctor if you have any symptoms that can point to pituitary conditions, for example:

  • frequent headaches
  • vision difficulties
  • sexual or fertility concerns

Let’s go over a few other questions that people with pituitary conditions ask their doctors.

What happens if the pituitary gland is damaged?

Damage to the pituitary gland can occur due to injury. It can cause several conditions, for example:

  • hypopituitarism
  • diabetes insipidus
  • Sheehan syndrome

What is the most common pituitary disease?

Benign tumors are the most common type of this condition. Most of these tumors are pituitary adenomas.

What are the symptoms of pituitary gland problems or cancer?

Symptoms of pituitary conditions, including cancer, vary with the type, but some of them include:

  • frequent headaches
  • vision changes
  • high blood pressure
  • sexual or fertility concerns
  • anxiety or depression
  • nausea or vomiting
  • hair loss
  • growth changes (in children)

What is autoimmune disease of pituitary gland?

Autoimmune disease happens when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own tissues. Hypophysitis and hypopituitarism are two examples of such conditions.

Conditions that affect your pituitary gland often occur due to noncancerous tumors. Although many people can have them, they rarely cause any health concerns and don’t require treatment. If you experience frequent headaches, vision difficulties, and other worrisome symptoms, be sure to speak with a medical professional.