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What is the Pituitary Gland?

By S. Mithra
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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As part of the endocrine system that regulates hormones, the pituitary gland controls many of the other glands through secretion. Our "master gland," the pituitary makes some hormones, but also acts as an intermediary between the brain and other endocrine glands. Our hormones and the pituitary accomplish many homeostatic and specialized functions, like bone growth and uterine contractions.

Neurons carry messages regarding the production of hormones between the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. Both are located at the base of the brain, nestled in a rounded part of bone, carefully protected. They are connected by a bunch of neurons called the infundibulum. Together, they work to regulate all the hormones that circulate in the bloodstream, controlling things like growth and hair pigmentation. Hormones are the long-distance messangers that can inform cells when to become active or stay dormant. The pituitary controls the thyroid, adrenal glands, ovaries and testes, even though it's only the size of a pea.

There are different parts of the pituitary gland that have selective functions. The posterior lobe, called the neurohypophysis, releases the hormones vasopressin and oxytocin, but doesn't produce them. Vasopressin is an anti-diuretic that controls how the kidneys absorb water. Oxytocin is a special hormone only present during childbirth to speed contractions.

The anterior lobe of the pituitary gland is called the adenohypophysis. It produces a variety of hormones, such as prolactin that stimulates lactation in women. Melanocyte spurs the body to produce melanin for skin and hair pigmentation. Follicle-stimulating hormone indicates where and when hair should grow during development. The very important growth hormone controls bone growth to determine height, especially active during adolescence. Hormones control glands as well. The thyroid reacts to thyrotropin, the adrenal glands are stimulated by adrenocorticotropin, and the sex glands are affected by luteinizing hormone. The pituitary gland is responsible for many stages and aspects of our maturation.

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Discussion Comments

By anon349632 — On Sep 27, 2013

You can start by getting a simple hormone level check at the doctor's office, male or female. If there is an imbalance they can confirm a tumor (adenoma) via MRI. Headaches and vision loss are the most common symptoms and stay away from diet soda pop (phenylalanine of any kind).

By anon288960 — On Sep 01, 2012

I was told my pituitary gland is corroded? I can't find any info on this condition. The doctor just dismissed it. But I always feel heady and get very frequent auras.

By anon145256 — On Jan 22, 2011

I have just recently had a cat scan and was told that my pituitary glad is missing. What does this do if they are unable to locate it? Is there treatment? Will I live a normal life?

My symptoms started out with my vision. I would get these flashing lights and to see beyond the lights was very hard. I could not read anything. I have had several of these spells in the last two months.

Should I be worried or just wait until the mri is done Monday and see if it what we know after the MRI. my mother has had two detached retinas and cataract surgery twice. I am 57 and still do not even wear glasses. Please answer me if at all possible. Thank you for listening.

By pleats — On Jan 10, 2011

Hello -- I was wondering if anyone could give me some more information about pituitary gland surgery. I have a friend whose daughter was recently diagnosed with a pituitary gland problem -- ACTH, I think she called it, or something like this, but the doctor said that she might do better to have surgery to fix it.

Well, my friend is (understandably) nervous about her daughter perhaps having to have brain surgery, so she asked me if I could find some more information on the subject. I've been asking around and doing a little reading on the subject, but I'm finding it very difficult to find first-hand information.

Could anyone here give me some first hand information about your experience with pituitary gland surgery, or simply what my friend could expect?

Thanks.

By pharmchick78 — On Jan 10, 2011

@earlyforest -- I completely understand your concern, however, your question is a little hard to answer. The problem is that due to the pituitary gland physiology, pituitary gland symptoms tend to vary widely by diseases. I'll try to answer your question though.

Most problems that deal with pituitary gland secretion are caused by tumors, often adenomas. Even if the tumor is benign, it can press on the pituitary gland and cause abnormal secretion.

This can lead to all kinds of symptoms, including lactation, weakness, fatigue, decreased or increased bone mass, and obesity, among other things.

With so many conditions that can be caused by something else as well, you can see how hard it is to come up with one answer to your question!

I would tell you though that you probably shouldn't be worried. Though serious, pituitary gland issues aren't terribly common, and most can be treated.

If you are truly concerned however, then you should talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to provide you with more information.

Best of luck!

By EarlyForest — On Jan 07, 2011

Very informative article, thank you very much. I would just like to ask for a little more detail on how you can really know if you have any pituitary gland diseases or a pituitary gland tumor before major life threatening symptoms show up.

After reading this, and seeing how important the pituitary gland is, I'm totally paranoid about having some kind of pituitary gland disorder -- it just seems like all of them are so debilitating.

Could anybody give me some more information about pituitary gland symptoms?

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