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Enlarged Pituitary Gland - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Updated on November 29, 2013

Location of Pituitary gland

What is a Pituitary gland?

The pituitary gland is an important structure which is responsible for maintaining the homeostasis in the body. This is a type of endocrine gland which is small, just the size of a pea, soft, reddish brown and is situated at the base of the brain.

An endocrine gland is a type of gland which directly secretes hormones to the blood. Several disorders may surface out in relation to an injury in the pituitary gland. The sella turcica is a bony structure which encloses an endocrine gland referred to as the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is positioned inferior to the hypothalamus and is joined to it by nerve fibers. Hormones are released through the communication of the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland.

The pituitary gland is also responsible for activating the other glands in the body so as to produce important hormones. Generally, the pituitary gland can be divided into three lobes which are the anterior, intermediate and posterior lobes. These three lobes produce different kinds of hormones.

The Anterior Lobe

  • ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic hormone) - This is responsible for the stimulation of the adrenal glands.
  • FSH (Follicle stimulating hormone)- For ovarian and testicular stimulation
  • Growth hormone
  • LH (Luteinizing hormone) -This is still responsible for the stimulation of the ovaries and testes
  • Prolactin - This hormones help produce milk during pregnancy
  • TSH (Thyroid-stimulating hormone) which stimulates the thyroid gland

The Intermediate Lobe

  • Melanocyte stimulating hormone - This can be accounted for the skin pigmentation

The Posterior Lobe

  • ADH (Antidiuretic hormone) - This hormone is responsible for the absorption of water from the blood by the kidneys
  • Oxytocin - This hormone helps keep the uterus contracted during childbirth and is also responsible for milk production

Homeostasis within the body is maintained through the secretion of hormones by the endocrine glands, specifically the pituitary gland. A hormone called tropic hormone which is secreted by the pituitary gland is also accounted for the stimulation of other endocrine glands to secrete more hormones. These hormones play a vital role in maintaining the functions of the body which include thermoregulation, maintaining normal blood pressure and keeping the normal functions of the thyroid gland. Damage to the pituitary gland tends to disrupt the homeostasis. An enlarged pituitary gland is the commonly-occurring problem. There can be several reasons for this.

Indeed, an enlarged pituitary gland can bring about a cluster of symptoms. There can be certain medical conditions which cause this. When medical practitioners suspect you to have an enlarged pituitary gland, they would usually refer you to an endocrinologist. An endocrinologist is a medical specialist responsible for treating endocrine disorders such that of an enlarged pituitary gland. The endocrinologist would evaluate the condition so as proper medical management can be rendered. Usually, the treatment may vary from medications to surgery.

Symptoms

Symptoms of an enlarged pituitary gland may include the following:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Visual disturbances such as double vision
  • Lethargy
  • Profuse sweating
  • Blood pressure irregularities

Since the pituitary gland is entirely responsible for regulating all the hormones in the body, it also has the possibility of influencing the functions of the thyroid gland. Thus, the following symptoms may also manifest:

  • Drooping eyelids
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

In people with enlarged pituitary gland, it is common for them to suffer from visual disturbances such as double vision because as the gland enlarges it has the possibility of pressing on the optic nerve which is located superior to the gland.

Causes

There can also be several factors accounted for an enlarged pituitary gland and these may include the following:

Pituitary gland tumor - Among the most common causes of an enlarged pituitary gland is due to the presence of a tumor. Tumors in the gland are likely to develop when there are excess pituitary cells. These tumors are considered to be just benign and may just bring about less harm to the body. Pituitary gland tumors can either be functioning and non-functioning. When the tumor is a non-functioning one, it may bring forth negligible alterations in the normal functioning of the body. However, if the tumor is a functioning tumor, this has the possibility to disrupt the normal functions of the body as it produces its own hormones. Discomforts can only be felt by patients when these tumors interrupt the flow of the hormones.

Internal bleeding - Bleeding in the pituitary gland can be secondary to the presence of a tumor which is the primary cause of an enlarged pituitary gland.

Thyroid disorders - Any problem with the thyroid gland may also cause the pituitary gland to enlarge since the pituitary gland also influences how much hormones the thyroid gland produces.

Diagnosis

Once your endocrinologist suspects you to have an enlarged pituitary gland, you will be requested to submit yourself for a test which includes the following:

  • Blood tests
  • Endocrine function test- This is done to measure the cortisol level. It can either be through Dexamethasone suppression test or through urine cortisol test.
  • Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels
  • Insulin Growth Factor 1
  • Luteinizing hormone levels
  • Serum prolactin levels
  • Testosterone/estradiol levels
  • Thyroid hormone levels (T3 and T4)
  • Visual fields testing
  • Medical history and symptom charting
  • MRI and CT scan of the brain

Soon as an enlarged pituitary gland has been detected and the underlying causes have been found out, proper medical treatment can then be given.

Treatment

Usually, the treatment of an enlarged pituitary gland would depend on its underlying causes. For instance, when a tumor is the primary reason for an enlarged pituitary gland, surgery is usually performed. If bleeding is the cause, stopping the bleeding would help resolve pituitary gland enlargement and when the overproduction of hormones is also a factor in the enlargement of the pituitary gland, hormone therapy is the usual treatment given. It is imperative to treat an enlarged pituitary gland the soonest since failure to do so would bring about irreversible damage. When for example, there are visual disturbances, leaving this untreated would cause permanent blindness due to optic nerve damage.

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