Pituitary Gland Introduction

The pituitary gland, also called the "master gland," releases many hormones into the bloodstream which are essential for body functions and metabolism. Situated in the pituitary fossa at the skull base, the pituitary weighs less than one gram and is connected to the hypothalamus by the pituitary stalk or infundibulum.

Structurally, the pituitary gland consists of two lobes: anterior pituitary (adenohypophysis) and posterior pituitary (neurohypophysis). The anterior lobe produces six hormones (GH, prolactin, TSH, ACTH, FSH and LH). The posterior lobe releases two hormones (ADH and oxytocin) which are produced in the hypothalamus. Directly above the pituitary gland are the optic nerves, and on each side of the pituitary gland are the cavernous sinuses containing the carotid arteries and nerves that control eye movements and facial sensation.

Because of the important hormones secreted and the close proximity of the pituitary gland to major nerves and blood vessels, disorders of the pituitary can produce both hormonal and neurological symptoms.

Listed below are the specific hormones produced by the pituitary:

  • Growth hormone (GH): This is the principal hormone that, among many other functions, regulates body and brain development, bone maturation, metabolism and is essential for healthy muscles.
  • Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH): These hormones control the production of sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) as well as sperm and egg maturation and release and are essential for fertility and sexual function.
  • Prolactin (PRL): This hormone stimulates secretion of breast milk. Overproduction of prolactin can result in infertility and decreased sexual function.
  • Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH): This hormone stimulates the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones control basal metabolic rate and play an important role in growth and maturation. Thyroid hormones affect almost every organ in the body.
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH): This hormone triggers the adrenal glands (located above the kidneys) to release the hormone cortisol, which in turn regulates carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism and is essential in the stress response.
  • Vasopressin, also called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH): This hormone promotes water to be reabsorbed by the kidneys and is thus essential in water and electrolyte balance.

An estimated 60 million people in America have or will have some kind of pituitary tumor.

  • 1 in 5 individuals harbor pituitary tumors; 1 in 6 will be symptomatic.
  • Very few risk factors are known. Family history can be a risk factor, as well as having a genetic disorder.
  • Symptoms usually develop between ages 30 and 40.
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