Pituitary disorders can affect all genders and ages, but many of them are more common in females.

Your pituitary gland is a small, pea-sized gland located at the base of your brain.

Despite its size, the pituitary gland plays an essential role in your life. It releases many hormones that control how your body functions in its day-to-day life.

Because of its important function, conditions of the pituitary gland can substantially affect your life. Most often, these conditions are caused by noncancerous tumors, called pituitary adenomas. Less commonly, they can result from pituitary cancers or injuries.

In this article, we explore some of the most common pituitary gland disorders in people assigned female at birth, their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

Language matters

In this article, we talk about pituitary gland disorders in people assigned female at birth. It’s important to note that not everyone assigned male or female at birth identifies with the label “male” or “female.” However, at times we use “male” or “female” to reflect the language in a study or statistic or to make sure people can find this article with the terms they search. When possible, we aim to be inclusive and create content that reflects the diversity of our readers.

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Pituitary gland. Design by Paul Lawrence.

Certain pituitary conditions are more common in women than in men. Let’s discuss these first.


Prolactinoma is a benign tumor that makes your pituitary gland produce too much prolactin. Prolactin stimulates milk production when you breastfeed. Too much of this hormone causes a condition called hyperprolactinemia. Symptoms include:

Treatment of prolactinoma usually involves medications, such as dopamine agonists, and surgery to remove the tumor.

Cushing’s syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome happens when you have increased levels of cortisol in your body. Some of the most common symptoms of this condition are:

Treatment for Cushing’s syndrome includes medications that decrease cortisol levels and surgery.


Acromegaly is caused by the overproduction of your growth hormone. The main symptoms of acromegaly are enlarged bones in the hands, feet, and face.

Treatment of acromegaly can include surgery, radiation therapy, or medications.


Hypopituitarism, also known as an underactive pituitary gland, occurs when your pituitary gland doesn’t release enough hormones. Symptoms of hypopituitarism vary depending on which hormones are affected, but common symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • irregular menstrual periods
  • infertility

Treatment of hypopituitarism usually involves replacing the affected hormones with hormone replacement therapy.

Sheehan syndrome

Sheehan syndrome is a type of hypopituitarism that occurs when there’s damage to your pituitary gland during childbirth. It’s caused by blood loss or extremely low blood pressure during or after labor. It affects the production of several pituitary hormones. Symptoms include difficulty breastfeeding and irregular menstrual periods, among others.

Treatment typically includes medications, for instance, corticosteroids and hormone replacement therapy.

Rathke cleft cyst

A cyst is a fluid-filled sack. Rathke cleft cysts usually develop before birth. Symptoms may include vision headaches and vision issues.

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

Empty sella syndrome

Empty sella syndrome is a disorder that affects the part of your skull that holds the pituitary gland. It’s more common in people with high blood pressure and obesity. The main symptoms of empty sella syndrome are headaches and vision problems.

Empty sella syndrome usually doesn’t require treatment unless it affects your hormone levels. In this case, you might need hormone replacement therapy or surgery.


This condition causes inflammation in your pituitary gland. Symptoms include vision changes and headaches.

Hypophysitis can be treated with immunosuppressant drugs and other medications or surgery.

Certain other conditions can equally affect women and men.

Diabetes insipidus

Diabetes insipidus happens when your body isn’t able to maintain water balance. It’s caused by low levels of antidiuretic hormone. Symptoms of this condition include excessive thirst and increased urine output.

Treatment of diabetes insipidus usually includes hormone replacement therapy and other medications.

Pituitary apoplexy

Pituitary apoplexy happens when you have bleeding or loss of blood in your pituitary gland. The most common symptoms are severe headaches and vision issues.

Pituitary apoplexy is a medical emergency requiring immediate medical attention. Treatment of pituitary apoplexy includes medications (for example, corticosteroids) and surgery.


Craniopharyngioma is a benign tumor that usually affects children and older adults. It can affect a child’s growth and development. Vision issues can happen in both children and adults.

Treatment of craniopharyngioma typically involves a combination of:

  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • hormone replacement therapy

Pituitary disorders are more common in women than in men, but they are still relatively rare. Some disorders (for example, prolactinoma) can be more common, while others (like Sheehan syndrome) are very rare.

Regardless of gender, the diagnosis of pituitary disorders typically involves a combination of medical history, physical exam, and labs.

Labs typically include:

  • blood tests
  • imaging studies like head MRIs
  • functional tests, like dynamic endocrine testing

Speak with a doctor if you have any symptoms of pituitary disorders, including:

  • frequent headaches
  • vision issues
  • sexual or fertility problems

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

What does the pituitary gland do in a woman?

The pituitary gland stores and releases different hormones that regulate your body.

What are the symptoms of a malfunctioning pituitary gland?

Not all pituitary gland disorders have symptoms, but some of the most common symptoms include:

  • frequent headaches
  • vision changes
  • sexual or fertility issues

What is the most common pituitary disorder in females?

The most common pituitary disorder in women is prolactinoma. However, it’s still rare, affecting only 30 out of 100,000 women.

What is the treatment for pituitary gland disorders in females?

Depending on your exact condition, treatment of pituitary disorders may include:

  • medications, such as hormone replacement therapy
  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy (for pituitary cancers)

Pituitary gland disorders are rare conditions that affect more women than men. They can be caused by benign tumors, injuries, or cancers. Many pituitary disorders don’t cause any symptoms, but you may experience headaches, vision disturbances, or sexual issues. Speak with a doctor if you have any worrisome or persistent symptoms.