Pituitary gland disorders occur when the pituitary gland produces too little or too much of certain hormones. Some examples are Cushing’s disease, empty sella syndrome, and acromegaly.

Pituitary gland disorders can affect bodily functions such as growth and development, sexual function, and adrenal function.

This article examines pituitary gland disorders, symptoms, treatments, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
A diagram of the head with medication for different types of pituitary diseases. -1Share on Pinterest
Nastasic/Getty Images

The pituitary gland is a small, pea-sized gland that sits at the base of the brain. A pituitary gland disorder occurs when the pituitary gland makes too much or too little of certain hormones.

The pituitary gland manages multiple hormones in the body. These allow the typical function of other glands and help regulate:

Cushing’s disease, sometimes called Cushing’s syndrome, occurs due to the pituitary gland stimulating the adrenal gland to produce too much cortisol over time. Cortisol is a hormone that the body uses to respond to stress.

Cushing’s disease typically affects adults ages 30–50 years old, though it can occur in children. It is more common in females.

Symptoms of Cushing’s disease include:

Long-term use of high dosage glucocorticoids may cause Cushing’s disease. Certain tumors may also cause excess cortisol production.

Treatment depends on the cause of the elevated cortisol level. It may include a doctor reducing a person’s glucocorticoid dosage or surgical tumor removal.

Learn about cortisol level testing.

The sella turcica is a bony structure surrounding the pituitary gland to protect it. Empty sella syndrome occurs due to an enlarged sella turcica.

Symptoms may include:

Primary empty sella syndrome has no known cause, and typically occurs more often in females who have obesity and high blood pressure.

Secondary empty sella syndrome may occur due to:

If a person experiences symptoms, doctors may prescribe hormone replacement therapy to alleviate them.

Acromegaly is a rare condition that occurs due to the pituitary gland producing excess growth hormone. Almost all cases are due to benign (noncancerous) pituitary tumors.

Growth hormone manages how the body grows. Too much growth hormone can cause abnormal growth in adults.

Symptoms of acromegaly include:

  • enlarged nose, ears, lips, and tongue
  • enlarged hands and feet
  • bones become larger, which may cause the brow and jaw to protrude and gaps to form between teeth
  • thick, coarse, oily skin
  • increased sweating and skin odor
  • deepening of voice
  • skin tags, which may also become larger or darker

Without treatment, acromegaly may cause complications. However, in most cases, it is a treatable disorder. Treatment may include surgery or radiation therapy to remove the tumor, or medication to stop the effects of the growth hormones.

Diabetes insipidus is a rare condition that causes excess urine production.

It occurs due to the pituitary gland not producing enough vasopressin, or antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which helps maintain the correct amount of water in the body.

Symptoms of diabetes insipidus include:

Without management, diabetes insipidus may lead to dehydration.

Treatment options may include medications to stimulate the effects of vasopressin.

Hypopituitarism is a rare disorder that occurs when the pituitary gland does not produce enough of certain hormones.

Causes of hypopituitarism include:

Hypopituitarism may happen suddenly, after an event such as surgery or injury, or develop slowly over many months or years.

Symptoms of hypopituitarism include:

Treatment depends on the underlying cause of hypopituitarism, and may include hormone replacement therapy, surgery, or radiation therapy to remove a pituitary tumor.

Pituitary tumors occur when cells grow abnormally in the pituitary gland. They can cause pituitary gland disorders such as acromegaly and hypopituitarism.

Pituitary tumors are typically benign. They tend to grow slowly and do not spread to other areas of the body.

Pituitary tumors cause the pituitary gland to produce abnormal levels of hormones, which can affect multiple functions in the body.

Symptoms may depend on the particular hormones affected. However, they may include:

Treatment options may include surgery, radiation therapy, or drug therapy to remove or destroy the tumor.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about pituitary gland disorders.

What is the most common pituitary disease?

Pituitary tumors are the most common type of pituitary disease, and may cause pituitary gland disorders such as acromegaly and hypopituitarism.

In most cases, pituitary tumors are benign.

What are the symptoms of pituitary gland problems?

Symptoms of pituitary gland problems typically vary depending on the type of disorder.

Pituitary gland problems alter hormone levels, which may lead to symptoms such as:

  • sexual dysfunction
  • abnormal growth or physical changes
  • altered menstrual cycles
  • unexplained weight changes

What is autoimmune disease of pituitary gland?

Autoimmune disease of the pituitary gland is a condition that occurs when the immune system attacks organs within the hormone system.

Autoimmune disorders affecting the pituitary gland include hypophysitis and isolated adrenocorticotropic hormone deficiency.

Pituitary gland disorders result from the pituitary gland producing too little or too much of certain hormones, which affects the rest of the body.

Treatment for pituitary gland disorders depends on the underlying cause. It may include medications to correct hormone levels or surgery to remove a pituitary tumor.