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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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