Pituitary Tumors

What are Pituitary Tumors

Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths found in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a small organ in the center of the brain. It makes hormones that affect growth and the functions of other glands in the body.

In most cases, pituitary tumors grow slowly, are not cancerous (benign), and do not spread to other parts of the body. These tumors are best treated when they are found and diagnosed early.

A pituitary tumor may produce hormones (functioning tumor) or not (non-functioning tumor). A pituitary tumor may cause:

  • Cushing disease. In this disease, the pituitary gland produces too much of a hormone called cortisol. This causes fat to build up in the face, back, and chest while the arms and legs become thin.
  • Acromegaly. This is a condition in which the hands, feet, and face are larger than normal.
  • Breast milk production, even when there is no pregnancy.

What are the causes?

The cause of most pituitary tumors is not known. In some cases, pituitary tumors may be passed from parent to child (inherited).

What increases the risk?

You are more likely to develop this condition if:

  • You have a family history of pituitary tumors.
  • You have certain syndromes caused by unwanted changes (mutations) in your genes.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Headaches.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Vision problems and eye muscle weakness.
  • Weakness or low energy.
  • Clear fluid draining from the nose.
  • Changes in the sense of smell.
  • Loss of body hair.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Problems caused by the production of too many hormones, such as:
    • Inability to get pregnant after a year of having sex regularly without using birth control (infertility).
    • Loss of menstrual periods in women.
    • Abnormal growth.
    • Diabetes insipidus or diabetes mellitus.
    • High blood pressure (hypertension).
    • Inability to tolerate heat or cold.
    • Increase in sweating.
    • Joint pain.
    • Other skin and body changes.
    • Nipple discharge.
    • Changes in mood, or depression.
    • Decreased sexual function.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on:

  • Your symptoms.
  • Your medical history.
  • Blood or urine tests to check your hormone levels.
  • CT scan.
  • MRI.
  • Removal and examination of a small tumor tissue (biopsy).

How is this treated?

Treatment depends on the type of pituitary tumor you have and your overall health. Treatments may include:

  • Surgical removal of the tumor.
  • Using high doses of X-ray energy to kill tumor cells (radiation).
  • Using certain medicines to stop the pituitary gland from producing too many hormones (drug therapy).

If you have a family history of pituitary tumors, you may need to have regular blood tests to monitor pituitary hormone levels.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.
  • If directed, follow instructions from your health care provider about measuring how much urine you pass.
  • Do not pick your nose or remove any crusting, if your nose is draining clear fluid. Tell your health care provider if this condition worsens.
  • Do not do any activities that require straining, such as heavy lifting. Ask your health care provider what activities are safe for you.
  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important, especially if you have a family history of pituitary tumors and you need regular blood tests.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have sudden, unusual thirst.
  • You are urinating more often than usual.
  • You have a headache that does not go away.
  • You develop new changes in your vision.
  • You have clear fluid leaking from your nose or ears.
  • You have a sensation of fluid trickling down the back of your throat.
  • You have a salty taste in your mouth.
  • You have trouble concentrating.

Get help right away if:

  • Your symptoms suddenly become severe.
  • You have a nosebleed that does not stop after a few minutes.
  • You have a fever of over 101°F (38.3°C).
  • You have a severe headache.
  • You have a stiff neck.
  • You are confused or not as alert as usual.
  • You have chest pain.
  • You have shortness of breath.

Summary

  • Pituitary tumors are abnormal growths found in the pituitary gland.
  • Treatment depends on the type of pituitary tumor you have and your overall health.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important, especially if you have a family history of pituitary tumors and you need regular blood tests.
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