Insufficient production of some or all of the pituitary hormones

  • Age, gender, genetics, and lifestyle are not significant factors

Hypopituitarism is a rare condition in which the pituitary gland secretes inadequate amounts of one or more of its hormones. In some cases, the disorder is progressive, ultimately causing underproduction of all pituitary hormones.

Hypopituitarism is usually caused by a pituitary tumour that damages normal tissue in the gland as it grows. The disorder may also be due to other factors that damage the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus, the part of the brain directly above the pituitary gland. Such factors include surgery or radiotherapy to treat a pituitary tumour or other head or neck tumour, head injury, or heavy blood loss that deprives the gland of oxygen.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms may appear suddenly but more commonly develop gradually and can go unrecognized for months or years. They may include:

  • Loss of interest in sex.

  • Lack of menstrual periods in women.

  • Loss of facial hair and shrinking of the testes in men.

  • Loss of underarm and pubic hair.

  • Dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

  • Paleness of the skin.

  • Tiredness, constipation, weight gain, and intolerance to cold.

Left untreated, hypopituitarism can lead to coma and be fatal. This is because the body is unable to increase the output of hormones needed to respond to physical stresses such as injury or infection.

What might be done?

If your doctor suspects that you have hypopituitarism, he or she will probably arrange for blood tests to check your hormone levels. You may also need to undergo tests in hospital to determine hormone production in response to various chemical stimulants, and you may have MRI or CT scanning to look for a pituitary tumour.

If a tumour is detected, you may have surgery to remove it, followed by radiotherapy to prevent a recurrence. Hypopituitarism can be treated with lifelong hormone-replacement drugs. These drugs do not usually replace pituitary hormones; they replace hormones, such as thyroid hormones and corticosteroids, that are produced by other glands stimulated by the pituitary.

You may need additional doses of corticosteroid drugs if you are injured or become ill. It is important for you to carry identification that provides information about the drugs you need in case a medical emergency arises.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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