The pituitary gland is an important gland and it is often referred to as the 'master gland', because it controls several of the other hormone glands (e.g. adrenals, thyroid). It is usually about the size of a bean and consists of two parts (often called lobes) - a front part, called the anterior pituitary and a back part, called the posterior pituitary.
The anterior pituitary makes several important hormones (image below) - Growth hormone, puberty hormones (or Gonadotrophins), Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH, which stimulates the Thyroid Gland to make thyroid hormone), Prolactin and Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone (ACTH, which stimulates the adrenal stress hormone, Cortisol). The posterior pituitary makes the fluid balance hormone called Anti-diuretic Hormone (ADH).
The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain (see image left). The nerves to the eyes run above the pituitary gland and hence if the pituitary enlarges significantly the patient may notice loss of peripheral vision and suffer headaches.
Adult pituitary disease usually consists of a benign growth (often referred to as ‘adenoma’ or ‘tumour’) on the gland. These are best visualised on a MRI of the pituitary which can only be requested by a specialist (see image below showing a pituitary adenoma).
Pituitary tumours may produce excess hormone, or they can block hormone production, or it can be ‘non-functioning’ (hormone production not affected in any way). Medication may be required to block the production of excess hormone and/or shrink the size of the tumour. Some pituitary tumours may not respond to medication and require an operation, or occasionally radiotherapy. Patients with pituitary problems often require lifelong monitoring with an endocrinologist who can help ensure the hormonal balance is kept right.
For more information on pituitary problems, please visit the Australian Pituitary Foundation at: http://www.pituitary.asn.au