Hypopituitarism is a condition in which the pituitary gland does not produce normal amounts of some or all of its hormones.
The pituitary gland is a small structure that is located just below the brain. It is attached by a stalk to the hypothalamus. This is the area of the brain that controls the pituitary gland's function.
The hormones released by the pituitary gland (and their functions) are:
Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) -- stimulates the adrenal gland to release cortisol; cortisol helps to maintain blood pressure and blood sugar
In hypopituitarism, there is a lack of one or more pituitary hormones. Lack of a hormone leads to loss of function in the gland or organ the hormone controls. For example, lack of TSH leads to loss of normal function of the thyroid gland.
Levels of a pituitary hormone may be high in the bloodstream if you have a pituitary tumor that is producing too much of that hormone. The tumor may crush other cells of the pituitary, leading to low levels of other hormones.
If hypopituitarism is caused by a tumor, you may need surgery to remove the tumor. Radiation therapy may also be needed.
You will need lifelong hormone medicines to replace hormones that are no longer made by organs under the control of the pituitary gland. These may include:
Drugs are also available to treat related infertility in men and women.
Hypopituitarism is usually permanent. It requires lifelong treatment with one or more medicines. But you can expect a normal life span.
Side effects of medicines can develop. Stopping corticosteroid and thyroid supplementation can be life-threatening.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of hypopituitarism.
In most cases, the disorder is not preventable. Awareness of risk may allow early diagnosis and treatment.
Melmed S, Kleinberg D, Ho K. Pituitary physiology and diagnostic evaluation. In: Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 8.
Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.