Pituitary Gland Overview
What is the pituitary gland: It is a part of your endocrine system. Its main function is to secrete hormones into your bloodstream.
Note the yellow color on that diagram.
These hormones can affect other organs and glands, especially your:
- reproductive organs
- adrenal glands
Where is my pituitary gland located?
It is a small gland that sits in the sella turcica (‘Turkish saddle’), a bony hollow in the base of the skull, underneath the brain and behind the bridge of the nose.
The pituitary has two main parts, the anterior pituitary gland and the posterior pituitary gland. The gland is attached to a part of the brain (the hypothalamus) that controls its activity. The anterior pituitary gland is connected to the brain by short blood vessels. The posterior pituitary gland is actually part of the brain and it secretes hormones directly into the bloodstream under the command of the brain.
Functions of pituitary gland
The pituitary gland is called the ‘master gland’ as the hormones it produces control so many different processes in the body. It senses the body’s needs and sends signals to different organs and glands throughout the body to regulate their function and maintain an appropriate environment.
It secretes a variety of hormones into the bloodstream which act as messengers to transmit information from the pituitary gland to distant cells, regulating their activity. For example, the pituitary gland produces prolactin, which acts on the breasts to induce milk production. The pituitary gland also secretes hormones that act on the adrenal glands, thyroid glands, ovaries and testes, which in turn produce other hormones. Through secretion of its hormones, the pituitary gland controls metabolism, growth, sexual maturation, reproduction, blood pressure, and many other vital physical functions and processes.
The pituitary gland can be divided into two different parts: the anterior and posterior lobes.
Anterior lobe Pituitary
The anterior lobe of your pituitary gland is made up of several different types of cells that produce and release different types of hormones, including:
- Growth hormone. Growth hormone regulates growth and physical development. It can stimulate growth in almost all of your tissues. Its primary targets are bones and muscles.
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone. This hormone activates your thyroid to release thyroid hormones. Your thyroid gland and the hormones it produces are crucial for metabolism.
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone. This hormone stimulates your adrenal glands to produce cortisol and other hormones.
- Follicle-stimulating hormone. Follicle-stimulating hormone is involved with estrogen secretion and the growth of egg cells in women. It’s also important for sperm cell production in men.
- Luteinizing hormone. Luteinizing hormone is involved in the production of estrogen in women and testosterone in men.
- Prolactin. Prolactin helps women who are breastfeeding produce milk.
- Endorphins. Endorphins have pain-relieving properties and are thought to be connected to the “pleasure centers” of the brain.
- Enkephalins. Enkephalins are closely related to endorphins and have similar pain-relieving effects.
- Beta-melanocyte-stimulating hormone. This hormone helps to stimulate increased pigmentation of your skin in response to exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
Posterior lobe of Pituitary
The posterior lobe of the pituitary also secretes hormones. These hormones are usually produced in your hypothalamus and stored in the posterior lobe until they’re released.
Hormones stored in the posterior lobe include:
- Vasopressin. This is also called antidiuretic hormone. It helps your body conserve water and prevent dehydration.
- Oxytocin. This hormone stimulates the release of breast milk. It also stimulates contractions of the uterus during labor.
Pituitary gland conditions
Several conditions can affect your pituitary gland. Most are caused by a tumor in or around the pituitary gland. This can impact the release of hormones.
some of the disorders include:
- Pituitary tumors. Pituitary tumors are usually noncancerous. However, they often interfere with the release of hormones. They can also press against other areas of your brain, leading to vision problems or headaches.
- Hypopituitarism. This condition causes your gland to produce very little or none of one or more of its hormones. This can affect things like growth or reproductive system function.
- Acromegaly. In this condition, your pituitary produces too much growth hormone. This can lead to excessive growth, especially of your hands and feet. It’s often associated with pituitary tumors.
- Diabetes insipidus. This can be caused by a problem with the release of vasopressin. It’s usually due to a head injury, surgery, or a tumor. As a result, people with this condition pass large amounts of heavily diluted urine. They may also feel like they need to drink a lot of water or other fluids.
- Cushing’s disease. The pituitary releases too much adrenocorticotropic hormone in people with this condition. This can lead to easy bruising, high blood pressure, weakness, and weight gain. It’s often caused by a tumor near or in the pituitary gland.
- Hyperprolactinemia. In this condition, your blood contains an unusually high amount of prolactin. This can lead to infertility and a decreased sex drive.
- Traumatic brain injury. This involves a sudden blow to your brain. Depending on the injury, it can sometimes damage the pituitary and cause problems with memory, communication, or behavior.
Symptoms of a pituitary gland condition
The gland is involved in a range of things, so any condition involving it can produce a diverse set of symptoms.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you regularly notice:
- weakness or fatigue
- high blood pressure
- unexplained weight gain
- trouble sleeping
- changes in psychological state, including mood swings or depression
- memory loss
- reproductive issues, including infertility, erectile dysfunction, and irregular periods
- excessive or unusual hair growth
- lactating when you’re not nursing
Most of the conditions that cause these symptoms are easy to treat and manage once you determine the underlying cause.