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Hypopituitarism

Fact Sheet

Hypopituitarism

  • Editors
  • Anne Klibanski, MD

    Janet A. Schlechte, MD

    Nicholas Tritos, MD

What is hypopituitarism?

Pituitary glandHypopituitarism (also called pituitary insufficiency) is a rare condition in which your pituitary gland doesn’t make enough of certain hormones. Your body can’t work properly when important glands, such as your thyroid gland and adrenal gland, don’t get the hormones they need from your pituitary gland.

What is the pituitary gland and what does it do?

The pituitary gland is a pea-sized gland found at the base of your brain. It is called the “master gland” because it affects the action of many other important glands that produce their own hormones. The pituitary gland affects almost all parts of your body.

Did You Know?

Hypopituitarism can develop very slowly, over several months or even over several years.

What can cause hypopituitarism?

Hypopituitarism can be caused by

Sometimes, the cause is unknown.

Pituitary Gland Hormones and What They Do
Hormone Function
Prolactin
  • Stimulates production of breast milk after childbirth
  • May affect menstrual periods, sex drive, and fertility
Growth hormone
  • In children, stimulates growth
  • In adults, affects muscle mass, bone mass, and fat distribution
Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH)
  • Stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol, which helps maintain blood pressure and blood glucose (sugar) levels, especially during stress, illness, or injury
Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
  • Stimulates the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism and energy balance
Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
  • Stimulates ovulation in women and testosterone production in men
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Stimulates estrogen production and egg development in women and sperm production in men
Antidiuretic hormone (ADH) (vasopressin)
  • Regulates the amount of water the body releases in the urine
Oxytocin
  • Helps flow of breast milk
  • Helps with labor during childbirth

What are the symptoms of hypopituitarism?

Symptoms can include one or more of the following:

How is hypopituitarism diagnosed?

Your doctor will check your hormone levels with blood tests. You may have other tests, such as an MRI of your pituitary gland, to help find the cause of your hypopituitarism.

What is the treatment for hypopituitarism?

Treatment usually includes taking the hormones you’re missing, sometimes for life. Your doctor also will teach you how to take extra cortisone (a hormone) when you are sick or under stress. If a tumor is causing your hypopituitarism, you might need surgery to remove it and/or possibly radiation treatment. If needed, you can take medicine for infertility.

You will need to get regular check-ups. It’s wise to wear medical identification, such as a bracelet or pendant, which provides information about your condition in case of an emergency.

What is the long-term outlook for me with hypopituitarism?

You can expect a normal life span, as long as you regularly take the medications recommended by your doctor.

Questions to ask your doctor

Resources