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Pituitary gland

2-minute read

The pituitary gland is an important part of the hormonal system. It makes many different hormones, some that have direct effects on the body, and others that control other endocrine glands , telling them what to do.

What is the pituitary gland?

The pituitary gland sits in a pocket of the skull under the middle part of the brain. It is quite small – about the size of a pea.

The pituitary is controlled in two ways: by signals from the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, and by sensing levels of other hormones in the body.

What hormones does the pituitary gland make?

The pituitary gland makes:

illustration of the endocrine glands
  • growth hormone, which regulates growth
  • thyroid stimulating hormone, which tells the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones
  • prolactin, which controls breast milk production
  • hormones involved in the reproductive cycle
  • a hormone that helps control the adrenal glands
  • oxytocin, which is involved in childbirth and breastfeeding
  • antidiuretic hormone, which helps control how much fluid is in your body. 

Medical conditions related to the pituitary gland

The pituitary gland can become disturbed and make too much or too little of a hormone. It can also be the site of a tumour, which can cause problems by squashing the surrounding brain tissue. Tumours in the pituitary are usually benign and only cause problems when they change hormone levels or take up too much space.

Here are some of the more common pituitary conditions.

  • Hyperprolactinaemia (too much prolactin) – a woman with hyperprolactinaemia might notice her periods becoming lighter or stopping, and might have difficulty getting pregnant and/or producing breast milk.
  • Growth hormone deficiency – this can delay children’s growth and lead to a child being shorter in height than expected. In adults, growth hormone deficiency can cause fatigue, weak muscles, excess weight and can affect bone health.
  • Hypopituitarism – a deficiency of all the pituitary hormones, which causes many different symptoms.

There are also rare symptoms caused by a pituitary condition, including:

  • gigantism – where a person grows very tall
  • acromegaly – where a person’s hands, feet and jaw enlarge
  • Cushing’s syndrome – where the body creates too many steroid hormones.

More information

Learn more about the endocrine system and the different hormones released by the endocrine glands.

Last reviewed: December 2016

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Pituitary tumour

Generally, pituitary tumours are benign (not cancerous) and slow growing, and pituitary cancers are rare. Benign tumours don’t spread to other parts of the body, so there is no chance of secondary tumours developing. Treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy and medication.

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Prolactinoma | myVMC

Prolactinoma or tumours of the pituitary gland cause sexual dysfunction in men and irregular menstrual periods in women due to reduced pituitary hormones.

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Pituitary Gland Cancer (Carcinoma of the Pituitary gland) | myVMC

Pituitary gland cancer or carcinoma of the pituitary gland is a rare cancer treated with radiotherapy and surgery. It runs in families.

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Hypopituitarism | myVMC

Hypopituitarism is a disease of the Pituitary Gland

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Empty sella syndrome | myVMC

Empty sella syndrome is a condition in which the pituitary gland cannot be visualised on an x-ray within a bony structure called the sella turica.

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Pituitary dwarfism (Growth hormone deficiency, Panhypopituitarism) | myVMC

Pituitary dwarfism or panhypopituitarism is a growth hormone deficiency that causes children to be abnormally short, with otherwise normal body proportions.

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Cushing's syndrome | myVMC

Cushings syndrome refers to the syndrome associated with excessive levels of a type of hormones glucocorticoids

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Endocrine System | myVMC

The endocrine system is a group of glands which produce hormones and secrete them directly into the blood stream to regulate hormone levels.

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Bromocriptine-BC | myVMC

Bromocriptine BC is a hormonal agent used to suppress lactation and reduce prolactin levels in the treatment of hormone disorders.

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